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“The One Prevailing Promise of the Church”—Pt. 1 CHURCHES PREVAILING AGAINST THE DARKNESS

Flying in an airplane at night, and looking out the window, I am struck by the profound darkness that envelopes the Earth. Yet, in the midst of the darkness are pinpricks of light; homes, businesses, and places of worship, that pierce the darkness and provide a sharp contrast  to their surroundings. Some of the lights are clustered together in small luminous communities, and in some places the lights are so numerous, and the glow so great, as to virtually prevail against the pressing darkness.

Churches, yours and others, are like those pinpricks of light, placed in the midst of the darkness by the hand of God. Your church exists to pierce the darkness, poke holes in it, push it back, to prevail against it; doing what Christ, commissions, equips, empowers, and expects the church to do.  Needed are churches that will not stand for evil, but rather stand against it, communities of faith not holed up inside their holy fortresses, holding out until Christ returns, but holding forth the word of God like a beacon in the darkness. Prevailing churches don’t wring their hands in frustration, or shrug their shoulders with indifference. Instead, prevailing churches faithfully resist the forces of darkness, and rescue the perishing in the name of Jesus.

But, how does a church become a prevailing church? Whether newly planted or long established, a church shines in the darkness with the same basic elements. Building a church that prevail against the darkness is not easy, but it is basic as 1-2-3.  There is one prevailing promise, two prevailing priorities, and three prevailing principles that are key in building a prevailing church. Lets deal first with the one prevailing promise.

The experts have much to say about church growth, the life cycle of churches, and why and how they die. While no expert, I have for 35 years, studied, observed, and experienced church growth and non-growth. I love celebrating with churches that are reaping a harvest of souls, and experiencing a season of divine blessing. But, I am also familiar with the plight of plateaued and failing churches. I strategize and sympathize with churches, stuck in a downward spiral, and numerical free fall. I ache with pastors who hear, and vaguely understand, that the church they serve will probably never turnaround unless they are replaced. While human expertise is of value, and experience can be a wonderful teacher, I most of all want to hear from the word of God. Is there any hope for the failing church? What does the Bible say about prevailing churches?

Of course, the Bible has much to say about the church, but there is one overriding statement, a soaring promise, that glows brighter than all others for the church. The promise is simple but powerful; THERE IS VICTORY IN JESUS! Jesus said, “…I will build My church, and the gates of Hades shall not prevail against it” (Matthew 16:18). What hope! What a help! What encouragement for the church! The church belongs to Jesus. He is its foundation, founder, architect, cornerstone, and builder. Jesus, who gave sight to the blind, healing to the leper, legs to the paralytic, sanity to the maniac, life to the dead, and new life to those who trust Him, promises that His church will prevail against the darkness.

“Hound and Bear” was a book we often read to our children when they were young.  The hound was a mischievous, and silly character, while his good friend Bear was gentle, serious, and sensible. One day Hound decided to play a trick on Bear. When Bear went to sleep in his little house, Hound painted the bedroom window black. The sun was shining brightly when Bear woke up the next morning and looked out the window, but all he saw was the blackness. Thinking it was still nighttime Bear went back to sleep. After a while Bear became hungry, but because of the darkness he believed it was only 12 o’clock midnight instead of noon. Bear went back to bed and slept all day and the next night. The following morning Hound knocked on the door, and laughingly revealed the trick he had played on Bear.

Satan, too, is into tricks. But his schemes are no laughing matter. Satan has painted all the windows of the world black so no one can see the light. Without the light of the gospel, people exist in darkness, wasting their lives, ignorant of blessings of God. But we have the great promise of Jesus that Satan’s schemes will not prevail. The Lord has given the church the keys of the kingdom, with which we are to bind the darkness, and loose the light (Matt 16:19). If by faith, we trust Jesus to build the church, believe in His promise, follow His plan, and depend on His power, the church will prevail against the darkness of evil and the designs of the enemy. THERE IS VICTORY IN JESUS!

Part 2 will deal with 2 prevailing priorities of the church.

Part 1 — 50 Ways to Love Your Leaders….by Robert Beike

October is Pastor Appreciation month. In honor of church leaders, and in an effort to contribute to the cause, here are 50 ways to love your leaders all year round…part 1.

  1. Send them a card–this month & on their birthday.
  2. Celebrate their birthday. (even a small gesture like cake & ice cream)
  3. Recognize their wedding anniversary.
  4. Find ways to encourage them.
  5. Offer a sincere compliment. (think of something)
  6. Take notes when they speak. (doodling doesn’t count)
  7. Pray for them regularly.
  8. Buy or lend them a book that will benefit them. (Not just to make a point)
  9. Provide a Sabbatical. (And not a permanent one)
  10. Provide an occasional dinner out with spouse & family.
  11. Provide occasional child care.
  12. Provide a get-away; overnight or weekend.
  13. Give them an occasional bonus or “love offering.”
  14. Send them to a conference of their choice.
  15. Volunteer to help with some aspect of ministry.
  16. Provide some new office or study furniture. (Before the old collapses or becomes eligible for the National Historical Society)
  17. Compliment their children.
  18. Give them a gift card for clothing.
  19. Send them a thank-you card.
  20. Attend services regularly

…..to be continued

 

What You Have Can Make a Difference…..by Robert Beike

“So he turned to them, expecting to get something from them. But Peter said, ‘I have neither silver or gold, but what I have, I give to you; In the name of Jesus Christ the Nazarene, get up and walk”‘”     (Acts 3:5-6 HCSB)

 

“If only our church was bigger, and had more to offer.” “If only we had more money and resources…then we could really impact our community.” “If only I had more talent, or more time, or was better connected…then I could make a difference.” When facing the monumental problems around us, we often default to an “if only” stance. Confronted by poverty, illiteracy, and depravity, loneliness, depression, dysfunction, and physical difficulties, we naturally feel overwhelmed and inadequate. We’d like to make a difference, but our inventory of resources seems woefully inadequate to meet the demand. And humanly speaking, that’s true. But, you are not limited to your own resources. God gives you all you need, to do all He wants you to do, as long as He wants you to do it. What you have can make a difference, if you are willing to give it away.

Thomas Aquinas called on Pope Innocent in the thirteenth century. The Pope, who was counting a large sum of money that had come to the church, told Aquinas, “See, Thomas, the church can no longer say, ‘Silver and Gold have I none.'”

“True, holy father,” Aquinas responded, “But neither can she now say, ‘Arise and walk.'”

Packed pews and overflowing offering plates don’t guarantee effective ministry. But, neither does the absence of such things indicate a lack of power to say “arise and walk.”

Peter and John lacked funds for an offering, but what they possessed was exactly what the beggar needed. They had access to all the resources of heaven and the power to make a real difference in the man’s life. So do you, if you have a personal relationship with Jesus. Like Peter and John, a Christian may have nothing, yet possess everything (2 Corinthians 6:10). Followers of Christ carry within them a treasure far superior to silver or gold, or anything the world offers. The gospel is more than a message, its an experience. God’s forgiveness, mercy, grace, and transforming presence are part of the Christian package delivered to us at salvation. You already have what it takes to make a world of difference. You can make a difference where you are, with what you have, if you are willing to give what you have “in the name of Jesus Christ the Nazarene.”

LOOK AT US…..by Robert Beike

“Look at Us”  (Acts 3:4b HCSB)

     “Look at us?” “Look at me?” Whoa! Wait! Doesn’t saying that to a person in need imply that we can meet that need? How could anyone have the audacity to say that to a world of hurting and needy people? Is that believable, or even thinkable? Yet, that is precisely what Peter, along with John, said to a lame beggar at the temple gate in Jerusalem. The man’s paralyzed condition seemed hopeless. When he asked for a mercy offering, they said it, knowing they did not have money to give– “Look at us.” Where did they get the notion that they could offer a solution to his problems?–From Jesus!

Three and a half years of spending quality time with Jesus had convinced them that He could make a difference in the lives of people. They were there when Jesus healed the paralytic lowered through a roof, and when He commanded the lame man at the Pool of Bethesda to pick up his bedroll and walk. They had watched the Master give sight to the blind, sanity to the demoniac, and even life to the dearly departed. They had also participated with Jesus in feeding a multitude with only the meager lunch of a little boy.

     In addition to observing Jesus meet the needs of people, they believed what He told them; The one who believes in Me will also do the works that I do. And he will do even greater works than these” (John 14:12).< Peter and John were simply living out the expectations of their Savior, and when the church says to the world, “look at us,” they are doing likewise. As the body of Christ, His ambassadors, we must be willing to not only capture, but invite the world’s attention. But, looking at us, they must see Jesus.

John A. Huffman, Jr. relates a story about Florence Nightingale, who was ministering in hospitals during the Crimean war. One night while making the rounds she paused at the bed of a wounded soldier, bending down and looking at the young man with eyes of compassion. The wounded man looked up and said, “You’re Christ come to me.”

Peter and John were Christ come to the lame beggar, although he didn’t yet realize it. Likewise, as those sent by Jesus on an incarnational mission to flesh out His love, we are Christ come to the world. Saying “look at us” anticipates a relationship–a personal connection with those we would help. It also includes a responsibility for their well being–physical and spiritual, and foresees a reorientation of a life touched by God. A world in need sits, virtually, on the steps of our churches. Life transforming ministry could begin with the simple, but audacious, words, “Look at us.”

THE EYES HAVE IT……………by Robert Beike

“Peter, along with John, looked at him intently…” (Acts 2:4)

     What you see is what you get passionate about. Needs that are unnoticed tend to stay unmet. That is why Jesus told His disciples, including Peter and John, “Open your eyes and look at the fields, for they are ready for harvest” (John 4:35 HCSB). Scientists estimate that the human eye is capable of seeing a light from a candle twenty miles away on a clear night. Even more remarkable is the ability to see, with God-given perception, real human need around us.

     Unfortunately, some form of people blindness afflicts most of us, skewing our ability to see as God designed. Prejudice and bias cloud our spiritual vision like physical cataracts. Near-sightedness prevents our seeing those who are culturally or ethnically distant, while far-sightedness causes us to overlook those on our own doorstep. And because of spiritual tunnel vision, people on the periphery of society are marginalized or missed altogether. Obviously, to really see with Christ-like perception we need corrective lenses. As Peter and John approached the temple in Jerusalem they saw this lame beggar clearly, for perhaps the first time, through lenses corrected by the Holy Spirit and polished through regular prayer and worship.

     Every opportunity to make a difference begins with a problem. Vision for ministry is often birthed from a desire to see what is become what must and should be. “Peter, along with John, looked at him intently.” They fixed their attention on this broken man, in the shadow of the beauty of God’s temple, and knew something needed to be different.

     Apart from God, all humanity is spiritually lame, and are pitiful beggars. Suffering from the debilitating condition of sinfulness, they are helpless, and hopeless, trapped in a desperate existence of unfulfilled potential, and undiscovered purpose. Clearly, something needs to be different. Go ahead, look around you–intently.

 

The Great Omission of the Church…..by Robert Beike

“But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.”  (Acts 1:8 HCSB)

     Jesus gave the church its great commission in Matthew 28:18-20. The great ignition of the church occurred with the infilling of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost (Acts 2). But, the great omission of the church may well be the words Jesus spoke in Acts 1:8.

     A number of years ago during a well publicized trial in Cincinnati, Ohio, one witness had an adverse, and bizarre, reaction to a single word. Each time the word “sex” was used in the courtroom this witness would faint, and need to be revived. This scene was repeated over and over. The cause of such extreme behavior is a bit hazy, but clearly, there are certain words in Christian circles that cause equally severe responses. “Witnessing” is one of those words. There is nothing like the words, “Let’s now go out and witness,” to cause church members to get weak in the knees.

     It is estimated that only 2% of Christians regularly share their faith, and less than 10% ever lead another person to Christ. Numerous reasons have been offered for this omission. Some suggest it is a matter of ignorance–a lack of know-how. For others it could be indolence; many Christians are, perhaps, too lazy and comfortable to make the effort. Often, not sharing one’s faith is due to indifference; being too preoccupied, not caring, or expecting someone else to do it. Still others are silenced by insecurity–fearful of being made a fool, experiencing hostility, or losing a friendship. Then, also, there is the isolation  factor of our comfortable homes, personal automobiles, and privacy fences that reduce relationships to a wave and a nod.

     Whatever the cause of the church’s great omission, the greater issue is how to fix it. The power of The Holy Spirit is the obvious key. Power that Jesus promises is a delegated power and authority from God that gets things done. The Holy Spirit animates and energizes Christ followers for the task of giving witness of the life, death, burial, resurrection and exaltation of Jesus. The Spirit also authorizes offering the free gift of God’s salvation to all people groups in our community, our country, our continent, and even to the extremities of our world. Since the indwelling Spirit of God is a common experience to all true believers, then perhaps eliminating the great omission requires the uncommon practice of yielding to the Holy Spirit, that His power may flow through us to those around us.

Rattle Those Pots and Pans…………by Robert Beike

“And every day they devoted themselves (to meeting) together in the temple complex, and broke bread from house to house. They ate their food with gladness and simplicity of heart,…” (Acts 2:46 HCSB, parenthesis mine)

The rattle of pots and pans, the clanking of dishes, and the aroma of food, are important ingredients in Christian fellowship. We often joke about eating meetings, and the ever-present fried chicken, but the breaking of bread has a way of binding us together. Moreover, hospitality has a prominent Biblical precedent, and roots deep in the human experience.

The Old Testament records Abraham hosting a trio of heavenly guests who had serious business in Sodom and Gomorrah. Before continuing their mission, they enjoyed the riches of fellowship over a wood-fired steak with all the trimmings. Jesus experienced hospitality as a guest on many occassions, and practiced hospitality with the disciples on the eve of His crucifixion. Upon His resurrection, Jesus revealed His identity to incredulous followers during a meal in Emmaus, and while hosting a fish fry on the beach. Bread and “The Bread of Life” seems to just go together. Its not surprising, then, that the disciples continued the custom of sharing the life of Christ around a meal.

A contagious kind of joy accompanied the gatherings of the first church as “they ate their food with gladness and simplicity of heart.” There was no pretense to their joy. They were sincerely glad they had Jesus, the word, each other, and the power of God in their lives.

Hospitality might be the most underutilized gift in the North American church. There are, likely, members in every church, and small group or class, that are wired to be gracious hosts, and/or who would be glad to cook for the kingdom of God. Hospitality is putting grace to work. It’s about giving purpose to the “pot-luck.” Let’s get together and share a little gladness. Rattle those pots and pans.

VITAL ATTRACTION…..by Robert Beike

“…praising God and having favor with all the people. and every day the Lord added to them those who were being saved.” (Acts 2:47 HCSB)

In this era of “missional” resurgence, it has become fashionable to discredit “attractional” ministries. Yet, both “come and see” and “go and be” activities made a healthy combo that super-sized the early church. Both are needed, and the gathered church, and the scattered church, must have one vital quality–be attractive! Unless the church is attractive to others, it will be repulsive, or simply ignored. Christians must be good news as well as share good news. Churches that grow have a magnetic personality.

The vital attraction of the Jerusalem Believers went beyond the superficial and cosmetic. Light attracts, love is compelling, joy is contagious, and generosity is beautiful. Its no surprise they were “having favor with all the people. And every day the Lord added to them those who were being saved.” In their daily lives they displayed an unexplainable power, demonstrated an undeniable purity, declared an unmistakable message, dispensed an unconditional love, and were devoted to a Savior that is unequalled. Recognizing that the gospel is always filtered through flawed human beings (the Jerusalem Church was no exception), and the offensive nature of the cross, nevertheless, there was a winsomeness to their preaching and witnessing that God blessed, and added to their number.

On a wall near the main entrance to the Alamo in San Antonio, Texas is a portrait with this inscription:

“James Butler Bonham–no picture of him exists. This portrait is of his nephew, Major James Bonham, deceased, who greatly resembled his uncle. It is placed here by his family that people may know the appearance of the man who died for freedom.”

While no literal portrait of Jesus exists, His likeness has been placed in the world for all to see, in the lives of His followers. The church is only attractive when it looks like Christ.

VELCRO CHURCH……………………..by Robert Beike

“Now all the believers were together and had everything in common. So they sold their possessions and property and distributed the proceeds to all, as everyone had a need.”

ACTS 2:44-45 (HCSB)

Many churches seem to have a Teflon-like non-stick coating. First time guests don’t stick around and members seem to slip out the back door without much notice. Not so the first church of Jerusalem. Their fellowship was more like Velcro.

The word Velcro is a combination of the two French words velours and crochet, meaning “velvet” and “hook.” This hook-and-loop fastener was invented in 1948 by the Swiss electrical engineer George de Mestral. It consists of two components: lineal fabric strips that feature tiny hooks on one side, and even smaller loops on the other. When pressed together the hooks catch in the loops and the two pieces form a tight bond. Separating the two Velcro strips creates a distinctive “ripping” sound. (Wikipedia.org, “Velcro”)

These new believers in Jerusalem formed a Velcro kind of connection as available resources hooked to pressing needs. It was the kind of uncommon connection that “had everything in common.” This was not a “communistic” effort to redistribute wealth, and create an artificial equality, by taking from the “haves” to give to the “have-nots.” Instead, it was a genuine Christian community, caring for one another, and fleshing out the life of Christ in real servanthood. This was a family of believers putting others’ needs ahead of their own. They not only shared the word of God, but also, their worldly goods. They practiced what was preached.

Velcro churches are easy to spot. They stand out like cities on a hill. Authentic friendships replace superficial “friendliness.” Members carry ropes to rescue and not rocks to condemn. Meeting physical and spiritual needs is normal behavior for all members. Loving relationships create a kind of warm incubator conducive to safety and spiritual health. Connections in Velcro churches are so tight that if they are separated, for whatever reason, its as if they are being “ripped” apart.

Ways Your Church Can Help Finance a New Church Plant….by Robert Beike

The four critical elements of any successful new church start are God (spiritual energy), a certain amount of know-how, lots of energy, and money. The first three are not optional, and at some point money will become an issue. Here are 20 ways your church can help finance a new church plant.

1. Provide regular (monthly if possible) financial support for the new church.

2. Donate items such as a lawn mower, microwave, oven, paint, etc.

3. Provide equipment and supplies, such as sound equipment, computer, printer, software, books, etc.

4. Pay for a specific utility such as gas, electric, water, etc.

5. Provide a specified amount for church planter’s mileage.

6. Provide gift cards from local eateries.

7. Purchase Bibles, tracts, or other material for the new work.

8. Pay for an occassional getaway for planter and wife.

9. Pay for church planter to attend training opportunities.

10. Put the new church in your mission budget and designate a percentage of undesignated offerings toward the new work (2-3% is a suggestion).

11. Provide a set amount each month (i.e. $100, $200, $500, etc.).

12. Allow the church planter to speak once a quarter and take up a special offering.

13. Take a special offering each month.

14. Sell off church assets and send proceeds to the new church.

15. Build a 48 week budget for your church and once a quarter (5th Sundays) give entire weeks offfering to new church.

16. Encourage the 5/52 plan where individuals or families give $5 a week for 52 weeks to the new church.

17. Sunday School classes or women’s mission organizations could adopt the new work, and find creative ways to help finance it.

18. Establish an ongoing fund for church planting similar to a building fund, etc.

19. Provide a baby church shower for the new church’s facility. Fill their wish list.

20. Give regularly and generously to the Cooperative program of the Southern Baptist Convention, to your association’s church planting fund, or your denominational church planting efforts.

 

 

 

 

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