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Seven Reasons Why Church Is Difficult For Those Touched By Mental Illness (via Stephen Grcevich)

Church is meant to be the one place on earth where people can come just as themselves and feel welcome and at home.
But it’s not always the case.
I found these seven reasons provided by Stephen Grcevich to make sense.
It’s helpful to read what is obvious when made plain, but is so easy to forget in practice.
Some of these are focused on parents whose children have a mental illness, others are relevant to people who are enduring various conditions whatever their age.

A couple of examples:

Anxiety: One in 15 American adults experience social anxiety disorder—a condition resulting in significant fear and distress in situations where their words or actions may be exposed to the scrutiny of others. How many social interactions might a first-time visitor to a weekend worship service need to navigate at your church? Persons with agoraphobia frequently experience intense fear, heart palpitations, breathing difficulties, excessive perspiration, and nausea in public places where their ability to leave unobtrusively is limited. How might they feel if there are no seats available near an exit at a worship service, or if a well-meaning usher directs them to a middle seat near the front of the church?

Expectations for self-discipline: The Bible clearly equates self-control with spiritual maturity. Most mental health conditions can negatively impact executive functioning—the cognitive capacities through which we establish priorities, plan for the future, manage time, delay gratification, and exercise conscious control over our thoughts, words, and actions. When children struggle with self-control in the absence of obvious signs of disability, we’re often quick to make assumptions about their parents. One mother in describing her family’s experience in looking for a church with two school-age boys with ADHD observed that, “People in the church think they can tell when a disability ends and bad parenting begins.”

Read the whole article here.


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A Very Confronting Diagnostic Question (via Karl Vaters)

Karl Vaters’ articles usually have some sharp takeaways.
In writing about ten steps churches should take in order to remain vital he writes we should:

Figure Out Why Your Congregation Should Survive
If your church disappeared tomorrow, what would really be lost?
Yes, that’s hard question. It might even feel cruel and uncaring. But it’s not. It’s essential.
Any congregation that can’t readily answer why they should survive, won’t.

Read the whole post here.


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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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Westminster Confession Of Faith – Lord’s Day 49

Westminster Confession Of Faith – Lord’s Day 49

Chapter 30 – Of Church Censures
I. The Lord Jesus, as king and head of his Church, has therein appointed a government in the hand of Church officers, distinct from the civil magistrate.
II. To these officers the keys of the Kingdom of Heaven are committed, by virtue whereof they have power respectively to retain and remit sins, to shut that kingdom against the impenitent, both by the word and censures; and to open it unto penitent sinners, by the ministry of the gospel, and by absolution from censures, as occasion shall require.
III. Church censures are necessary for the reclaiming and gaining of offending brethren; for deterring of others from like offenses; for purging out of that leaven which might infect the whole lump; for vindicating the honour of Christ, and the holy profession of the gospel; and for preventing the wrath of God, which might justly fall upon the Church, if they should suffer his covenant, and the seals thereof, to be profaned by notorious and obstinate offenders.
IV. For the better attaining of these ends, the officers of the Church are to proceed by admonition, suspension from the sacrament of the Lord’s Supper for a season, and by excommunication from the Church, according to the nature of the crime, and demerit of the person.


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The Local Church – Movement, Monument, Or Mausoleum? (via Ray Ortlund)

Ray Ortlund passes on an observation about three stages in a local church’s growth and decline. It’s vital to humbly self-examine because what can be observed as strength can be the rigidity that is precursor to decline.

Movement
A healthy church is born as a burst of positive gospel energy. It’s a Pentecost-like explosion of joy, a vital gospel movement. Such a church has a sense of mission, even a sense of destiny. It’s exciting to be in this church. Think of a steep upward trajectory.

Monument
Given human weakness, after a time, this movement becomes a monument. The spirit of the church changes from hunger to self-satisfaction, from eagerness to routine, from daring new steps of faith to maintaining the status quo, from outward to ingrown. It’s easy not to notice this shift. The self-image of the church might still be that of a vital movement. But deep within, everything has changed. Think of leveling off.

Mausoleum
If the trend toward mediocrity is not arrested, the church will decline and become a mausoleum, a place of death. The church as an institution may have enough social momentum and financial resources to keep churning on. But as a force for newness of life, it no longer counts. Think of steep decline – indeed, a death spiral.

The responsibility of a church’s leaders is to discern when their movement is starting to level off as a monument. It is at this crucial point that they must face themselves honestly and discover why they have lost their edge, go into repentance and return to the costly commitments that made them great to begin with. They may need to deconstruct much of what they have become, which is painful and embarrassing. But if the leaders will have the humility, clarity and courage to do this, their church will go into renewal and re-launch as a movement once more. Jesus will become real again, people will be helped again, and those bold, humble leaders will never regret the price they paid.

source


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Praying For A Discontented Church (via Trevin Wax)

Trevin Wax writes about the deadly temptation of desiring a church where everyone is happy with things exactly as they are.

…we are right to pursue unity and peace in the church. But we are wrong to assume that the absence of conflict or complaint indicates that things are going in the right direction. The satisfaction of church members may be a sign not of faithfulness, but of widespread complacency.
Imagine this scenario. You’re a pastor in a congregation where there has been division and disunity over the years. Right now, things are better. Attendance is up. The number of complaints has fallen. People regularly encourage the staff and speak highly of the church. Every now and then, someone says: “Don’t change a thing. We love everything!”
Now, the temptation is to say, “Wonderful! Finally, everyone is happy” as if making everyone happy is the goal of your church. But that temptation is deadly. The mission of the church is not to satisfy the preferences of church members, but to spread the gospel of Jesus so that sinners are saved and find their satisfaction in him.
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We don’t want churches full of people dissatisfied due to their personal preferences going unfulfilled. Neither do we want churches full of people who are satisfied because everything is running smoothly. No, we want people who are satisfied with God but dissatisfied with the state of the world because they live and breathe the mission. They’re driven by the gospel and the mission on behalf of King Jesus and his kingdom.
As one of the pastors at my church, I am praying for more holy discontent. Our goal is not to make things satisfactory for our members, but to encourage and empower more members to be on mission together.

Read the whole article here.


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Westminster Confession Of Faith – Lord’s Day 44

Westminster Confession Of Faith – Lord’s Day 44

Chapter 27 – Of the Sacraments
I. Sacraments are holy signs and seals of the covenant of grace, immediately instituted by God, to represent Christ and his benefits, and to confirm our interest in him: as also to put a visible difference between those that belong unto the Church, and the rest of the world; and solemnly to engage them to the service of God in Christ, according to his Word.
II. There is in every sacrament a spiritual relation, or sacramental union, between the sign and the thing signified; whence it comes to pass that the names and effects of the one are attributed to the other.
III. The grace which is exhibited in or by the sacraments, rightly used, is not conferred by any power in them; neither does the efficacy of a sacrament depend upon the piety or intention of him that does administer it, but upon the work of the Spirit, and the word of institution, which contains, together with a precept authorising the use thereof, a promise of benefit to worthy receivers.
IV. There be only two sacraments ordained by Christ our Lord in the gospels, that is to say, Baptism and the Supper of the Lord: neither or which may be dispensed by any but a minister of the Word, lawfully ordained.
V. The sacraments of the Old Testament, in regard of the spiritual things thereby signified and exhibited, were, for substance, the same with those of the New.