The Changing Church: We are the Weird Ones Now

The Changing Church: We are the Weird Ones Now

oneisdifferent

by Robby Partain

Think of a group or organization to which you belong.  Can you identify the oddball in the group?  You know, that person who doesn’t quite fit.  Maybe it’s how he dresses.  Maybe it’s how she interacts socially.  Maybe it’s the unusual way that person speaks or some unique beliefs that set him apart.  When that person is in the group, you are reminded of the old Sesame Street song: “One of these things is not like the others…”

I hope the peculiar person finds acceptance in your group.  I hope you treat him with loving kindness and appreciate his uniqueness.  However, if we’re honest, most of us will confess difficulty in relating to such people.  We like sameness.  We like it when everything and everyone fits.  Outliers make us nervous.  Sometimes they exasperate us or make us angry.  We’re tempted to think of them as backward or rude or uncooperative.  Their presence is a threat to the unanimity we desperately want.  We’ll grudgingly concede that they have a right to their peculiarities, but the least they can do is be low-key about it and stay out of the way of the rest of us.

Now here’s the point I wish to make about the changing church:  We are the oddballs of our society!  A Christian with a biblical worldview and the desire to live out that worldview is an outlier in America today.  If we believe and attempt to practice what followers of Christ have always believed and practiced, then we are the weird ones now.  Orthodoxy is peculiar.  We are not the majority.  We are very much out of step with the times.  And remember the challenges we have dealing with the oddballs in our groups?  That’s exactly how the majority culture feels about us.  Let that sink in for a moment.

I find that believers often take one of three paths concerning their oddball status.

Some refuse to accept reality.  They are convinced there is still a “moral majority” of people like them who just need to rise up and reassert their political dominance.  They think we’re just one election and a few good Supreme Court justices away from setting things right again in “Christian” America.  We’re not, and we move further away from majority status with each passing generation.  Consider this:  Lifeway estimates that only 15% of the Millennial generation, born 1980 – 2000, are Christians as you and I would define the term (thomrainer.com, “Six Ways Millennials are Shaping the Church,” 12.11.13).   This is the largest generation in U.S. history – some 80 million strong – and roughly 20% of them are not even yet voting age.  There is every reason to believe that the majority electorate will continue to become less like us as the years go by.  But why should politics be the church’s hope anyway?

Some are defiant.  They know the reality and are very mad about it.  They tend to see the church as a place to circle the wagons and fend off the attackers.  They wish to have very little to do with the folks out there in the cultural mainstream.  These are our brethren who have both a fish and an angry bumper sticker on their cars.

Some seek to change their oddball status.  It is uncomfortable for most people to be so different than the majority, so some are trying to fit in.  They keep their Christianity in a separate compartment from the rest of their lives, if indeed they keep it at all.  A vague, inoffensive spirituality will get you much fewer dirty looks from the majority culture.

There is a better path than the three above.  Paul tells the peculiar, oddballs-in-their-culture Colossian church: “Walk in wisdom toward outsiders, making the best use of the time.  Let your speech always be gracious, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how you ought to answer each person” (4:5-6).  In saying this, the apostle was basically restating Jesus’ charge to all his disciples: “Let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father in heaven” (Matthew 5:16).

Rather than denial, defiance, or disowning the faith, I think it’s time for the church to deploy!  Here are some characteristics of a church that understands the new situation and desires to make the best use of the time.

  1. Purpose: They have clear, biblical doctrine and a broadly-owned mission statement that shapes everything they do. They have clarity about why they exist and the main objectives they are to pursue.
  1. Identity: They see themselves as missionaries living in a mission field.
  1. Movement: They have a “go to them” rather than a “come to us” mindset. They are organized and resourced to move members into the community and beyond to serve in the name of Jesus Christ (the “incarnational” model of church).  They have gotten over the illusion that there are lots of unreached people out there who are eager to go to church (the “attractional” model of church).
  1. Metrics: They no longer think of success in terms of “how many times a week can we get people to come to church.” They think of it in terms of “what key factors make for a growing, on-mission disciple.”  They define, strategize for, and measure those key factors.
  1. Focus: The Savior and the basic gospel are front and center in everything they do. The church’s message isn’t “modify your behavior” (i.e., a works-based message).  The church’s message is Jesus (i.e., a grace-based message).
  1. Connected: They join with strategic partners to carry out the Great Commission at each level of Acts 1:8, giving definition to their “Jerusalem, Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.”

Bottom line:  It’s a losing strategy to keep doing church-as-usual and hope that the culture comes back to us.  Our situation has changed and we need to change with it.  Church, deploy!

The “Secret” to a Fruitful Ministry

The “Secret” to a Fruitful Ministry

fruitful-ministry

by Robby Partain

I am not impressed by newly discovered “secrets.” When someone announces they have cracked the “Bible codes” or uncovered some “amazing facts” that have been kept from the general public by a tightly controlled conspiracy, I am skeptical to say the least. The “secrets” invariably turn out to be either pure hokum or a repackaging of something that human beings have known for a long time. 

So when I announce to you that there is a secret to fruitful ministry, understand that it isn’t really a secret in terms of new information. This secret has been hiding in plain sight for a long time. It is only a secret in the sense that it flies in the face of conventional wisdom. 

Here it is from the lips of Jesus: “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit” (John 12:24 ESV).

There you have it. The big secret to your ministry’s fruitfulness is to die where you’re planted.  It is only by dying – by completely surrendering to the Lord where you are – that you can hope to live a fruitful life for Him. 

One of the biggest obstacles to fruitful ministry is not engaging fully where you are, but instead looking to some other place or set of circumstances, the “greener pastures” that you just know are out there waiting for you. Do you find yourself saying things like, “When things calm down I’ll…” or “When the right opportunity comes along I’ll…” or “When we finally get settled I’ll… “? It never happens!  Things never settle down. Conditions never align just right. As I heard Rick Warren say, “If you wait for perfect circumstances, you’ll never get anything done.” Not engaging fully where you are is just another way of refusing to surrender to the Lord and trying to direct your own success. 

Jesus equated the grain of wheat that refused to fall into the ground with His followers who try to direct their own lives: “Whoever loves his life loses it” (v25a). Read “loves” as “holds onto” and “is self-serving with.” It doesn’t work. The more we try to engineer our circumstances and success, the more we lose out. It’s like gripping sand. The tighter you squeeze, the more you lose. The more effort we put into keeping our lives on our terms, the more of it that leaks out through the cracks and crevices. On the other hand, Jesus said, “Whoever hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life” (v25b). Read “hates” as “surrenders control of” and “serves Me with.” 

So clearly the prerequisite for living a fruitful life is dying to selfish ambitions and worldly aspirations. Your agenda must be replaced by the Lord’s agenda, and that means He puts you where He wants you for His purposes.  Ministry leader, have you died yet? 

Once you die, the definition of success becomes very simple: Serving and following Jesus. As the Lord Himself said, “If anyone serves me, he must follow me; and where I am, there will my servant be also” (v26a). The problem is that we often measure success by outcomes or by comparing to someone else. Let me ask you this: Does the grain of wheat get to decide how big its crop will be? No, it just dies where it’s planted. It simply surrenders and submits to the conditions of the soil. Factors beyond the grain of wheat’s control decide how big the crop will be. 

Ministry leader, the size of your “crop” is not your responsibility. Such things are above your pay grade. The size of your commitment and surrender to the Lord is your responsibility. Success means faithfulness to the Lord and His call. Let Him worry about the size of the crop. 

And by the way, there is very good news for those who chose to live by dying: “If anyone serves me, the Father will honor him” (v26b), Jesus says. What? Huh? The Father will honor us? Yes, that is what the Bible says. God will honor those who live the die-where-you’re-planted life. Now what could be better than enjoying that for eternity? 

So here’s the bottom line. The secret to a fruitful ministry is not to worry about the fruit, but to die where you’re planted. Once you’ve died, the purpose of your ministry becomes real simple – doing what God’s called you to do in a way that honors Him. That is true success and the kind of life the Father honors.

Here are some thoughts about applying the lesson of the grain of wheat.

1. Who you are and where you are is no accident. Quit wishing you were someone or somewhere else or you’ll squander your only opportunity to serve Jesus and live a fruitful life. Get started here. Get started now.

2. Refuse to play the comparison game. It is irrelevant what someone else is doing or what size their crop is. The comparison game only leads to pride or discouragement. Both are an affront to God.

3. Make dying the focus of your praying. Ask the Lord what the dying principle – “Less about me, more about Thee” – should look like in your present circumstances. Ask Him to show you how to fall into the ground and die and trust Him to do something beautiful through you. 

Ministry leaders, let’s die where we’re planted and trust the Lord to produce his crop through us.

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