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Understanding Where Your Church Is On The Congregational Life Cycle (via Thom Rainer)

Thom Rainer outlines the cycle of vitality and decline that he has observed in growing and shrinking churches.
Locally I deal with churches demonstrating the fourth and fifth of these stages.
Even though being a growing church is especially challenging in country areas where population bases are declining, these churches have a culture that reflects a lack of spiritual health.
At MGPC we’re giving special focus to states one and three.
Rainer’s post:

Almost every time I speak about church decline and death, someone challenges my thesis. They tell me churches will not die, according to Jesus’ words in Matthew 16:18: “And I also say to you that you are Peter, and on this rock and I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not overpower it.”
There are two major problems with the argument that churches will not close. First, Jesus is not referring to any one congregation in this passage; He is referring to the Universal Church. Second, churches are dying, lots of them—several thousand each year in America alone.
It is, therefore, helpful to see the life cycle of churches so we can at least understand visually where our church resides currently, and where it may be heading. I call this visual the Congregational Life Cycle ©.
This approach delineates six stages. Keep in mind that most churches are not totally focused on any one stage at any time. Rather, the Congregational Life Cycle demonstrates where a church is predominantly focused in its resources of time, money, and emotions.

Outward Focus
This is the beginning stage of most new churches. In the spirit of the Great Commission of Matthew 28:19 or Acts 1:8, the church focuses the majority of its resources reaching the community and having gospel conversations. The focus is on the “other” instead of the “us.”
Organization and Structure
A church without a healthy organization and structure is like a body without a skeleton. It cannot survive as an unstructured mass. It needs a clear polity. It needs a place to meet. It needs a healthy system of groups. It needs clearly defined leadership. It needs processes and procedures.
Integration and Assimilation
A congregation is better able to integrate and assimilate the congregants with a healthy organization and structure. The previous stage was more about the right structure. This stage is about integrating people into the structure.
Inverse Priorities
I also call this stage “the tail wagging the dog.” The previous two stages become ends instead of means. Members seek to hold onto the ministries, programs, processes, and styles where they are comfortable. Two phrases become common mantras in the church: “We’ve never done it that way before” and “We will not change.”
Decline
The church not only declines numerically; it declines in spirit and unity. The congregation often looks more like a spiritual country club doling perks and privileges, rather than a biblical church where all of the parts of the body are working in a self-sacrificial manner.
Death
The church closes its doors. In the past, death took years, even decades, to become a reality. Now it comes with surprising speed and unforgiving force.

What Now?
What are church leaders to do with this Congregational Life Cycle?
First, determine where your church is on the cycle today. Where is your congregation expending the greatest level of resources?
Second, always seek to move to Outward Focus. Seek to expend your greatest resources being a true Great Commission church. Seek to reach your community with unadulterated love and grace-filled giving.

Even a church about to close its doors can move to the Outward Focus stage. The church can give its building and resources to a healthy congregation. It can become acquired by another church. It can become a church replant. Through its own death, it can give new life to another congregation.
But all churches should prayerfully move to the stage of Outward Focus, where the greatest level of resources are focused on reaching others and discipling them. That’s what the early church modeled.
And that’s what our church should model today.

Source


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When Your Partner Is Down And Can’t Get Up (via Glen Scrivener)

Glen Scrivener writes ten thoughts that have sustained him as he supports his wife through mental illness.
They are his perspectives, shaped from his experiences, and he offers them for whatever others may gain from them.

Here’s one:

Your Oneness Is Deeper Than This Problem
It’s never “you vs. your problem spouse.” It’s always “you and your spouse vs. this problem.” Never allow the enemy to cast your beloved as the problem. A major way of maintaining this truth is to keep practicing truth number six: keep repenting, and openly so. It encourages your partner — and your oneness — if you’re also transparent with your struggles.

Read the rest of the article at the Gospel Coalition.


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Westminster Confession Of Faith – Lord’s Day 48

Westminster Confession Of Faith – Lord’s Day 48

Chapter 29 – Of The Lord’s Supper (Cont.) Paragraphs 5-8
V. The outward elements in this sacrament, duly set apart to the uses ordained by Christ, have such relation to him crucified, as that truly, yet sacramentally only, they are sometimes called by the name of the things they represent, to wit, the body and blood of Christ; albeit, in substance and nature, they still remain truly, and only, bread and wine, as they were before.
VI. That doctrine which maintains a change of the substance of bread and wine, into the substance of Christ’s body and blood (commonly called transubstantiation) by consecration of a priest, or by any other way, is repugnant, not to Scripture alone, but even to common-sense and reason; overthrows the nature of the sacrament; and has been, and is, the cause of manifold superstitions, yea, of gross idolatries.
VII. Worthy receivers, outwardly partaking of the visible elements in this sacrament, do then also inwardly by faith, really and indeed, yet not carnally and corporally, but spiritually, receive and feed upon Christ crucified, and all benefits of his death: the body and blood of Christ being then not corporally or carnally in, with, or under the bread and wine; yet as really, but spiritually, present to the faith of believers in that ordinance, as the elements themselves are to their outward senses.
VIII. Although ignorant and wicked men receive the outward elements in this sacrament, yet they receive not the thing signified thereby; but by their unworthy coming thereunto are guilty of the body and blood of the Lord, to their own damnation. Wherefore all ignorant and ungodly persons, as they are unfit to enjoy communion with him, so are they unworthy of the Lord’s table, and can not, without great sin against Christ, while they remain such, partake of these holy mysteries, or be admitted thereunto.


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We’re All Eleventh Hour Labourers (via Jerry Bridges)

Jerry Bridges points out that unless you understand Jesus’ parable of the workers in the field by knowing that we’re all those who were engaged at the eleventh hour then you don’t understand it properly.
As you worship tomorrow we all gather as those who have received far more than anything we could have earned, and more grace than we deserve.
An excerpt:
Many are troubled by the apparent unfairness of the landowner. After all, it does seem unfair to pay one-hour workers the same as was paid to those who worked a full twelve hours, who had “borne the burden of the day and the scorching heat.” But the one-hour labourers did not think the master was unfair; rather, they considered him very generous. If we are troubled by the apparent unfairness, it is because we tend to identify with the twelve-hour workers. And the more committed we are to serious discipleship, the more apt we are to fall into the trap of envying those who enjoy the blessings of God more than we.
The truth is, we are all eleventh-hour laborers. None of us have even come close to loving God with all of our heart, soul, and mind. None of us have come close to loving our neighbor as ourselves (Matt. 22:37–39). So let us learn to be thankful for all God gives to us and not begrudge blessings He gives to others.

Read the rest at Ligonier.


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What If I Never Change? (via Stephanie Phillips at Mockingbird)

A reflective article about life with chronic illness and trust in God by Stephanie Phillips.
An excerpt:

I had the thought the other day: what if I never change? I don’t remember what I was doing: making yet another dinner, folding some more laundry, mediating another child-fight, battling another impulse to emit a primal scream. I felt hopeless: after all, shouldn’t I, as a Christian, believe in change? Shouldn’t I hold the promise of it close like a small kitten, relying on its surety to keep me warm at night and positive during the day? “Personal transformation!” shout the majority of preachers. NO! The cynic in me counters. Consider this: what if you NEVER change?
And almost as quickly, from outside of myself, came an answer, which I believe may be the answer: you’ll still be loved. I considered it. Really? I thought. I know I’m a student of grace and all, but surely there are limits? I mean, you’ve got to show at least some effort in this game, some evidence of achievement?
Sanctification has, to be honest, always left me mystified. What does it mean? It’s just a fancy word for change, right? Of what happens after we believe? Which, of course, is spirit-directed, but let’s be honest again, is aided by my spiritual disciplines? By my own commitment? There’s certainly a multi-billion dollar industry out there that says so.
But what if I never change?
You’ll still be loved.
Preposterous. Offensive. So not me-centric. The alliteratively-outlined sermons of my childhood would be horrified.
But you know what? Trying-to-prove-myself-me? “Hey-everyone-I’m-so-OK” me? Is the worst version of me.

Read the whole post at Mockingbird.


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Every Home Is Broken From The Day It Begins (via Richard Pratt)

This article by Richard Pratt called Broken Homes In The Bible was on Key Life, after having originally been published by Ligonier.
It brings helpful perspective.
An excerpt:

Unfortunately, very few people acknowledge how long and how deeply the human family has been broken. When troubles come to our homes, we almost always pin the blame on someone’s personal failures. “My family was fine,” one mother told me, “until my son became a teenager.” “We were without problems,” a husband once commented, “and suddenly my wife was unfaithful to me.” “We were a great family,” a child confided in me, “but then Dad just got up and left.” Of course, we all have personal failures, and there is plenty of blame to go around for the problems our families suffer. But statements like these reveal how much we need to look more carefully at the root of our problems. No family is “fine,” “without problems,” or “great” until someone destroys it. Every home is broken from the day it begins.
If you and I were to believe what the Bible says about the origins of our family problems, our attitudes and actions would be very different. We would be more sympathetic with others going through hard times, more vigilant about keeping our own families on track, and more devoted to pursuing help from God rather than simply assigning blame. Wouldn’t that be a welcome change?

Read the whole post here.


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(How Not To Be) Lukewarm And Lovin’ It – via Greg Morse at Desiring God

Greg Morse writes about how he remained lukewarm as a Christian, and what maintained that status:

Lukewarm and Lovin’ It
I didn’t cuss much. I wasn’t sleeping around. I went to church most Sundays. I must be a Christian.
I said that Jesus died for my sins. I sang the lyrics on the screen. I prayed before meals. I gave God props for my athletic achievements. I must be a Christian.
Sure, God wasn’t my all in all. Sure, I never read his word. Sure, I didn’t pray very much. Sure, I secretly loved sin. Sure, holiness seemed dreadfully boring. Sure, I rarely owned him in public or spent time with him in private. But he understood. I was only human after all. No one is perfect.
If God had not intervened, I would have awoken from my delusion to a lake of fire. I imagined I feasted at the table of grace, drank from the chalice of eternal life, but I was eating garbage and drinking sewer water. I was dreaming, like those described in Isaiah,

As when a hungry man dreams, and behold, he is eating, and awakes with his hunger not satisfied, or as when a thirsty man dreams, and behold, he is drinking, and awakes faint, with his thirst not quenched. (Isaiah 29:8)

I would have been the most miserable creature in all of perdition.
And I kept myself in my delusion, muting my conscience and convincing myself that I was right with God by this simple strategy: I refused to read God’s book and measured myself by the people around me.

Read the rest of Morse’s post at Desiring God to see what made a difference in his life.