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Barriers To Becoming A Simple Church (via Thom Rainer)

Through the beginning of the year Thom Rainer has been posting about churches becoming simple or zero sum.
In practice this involves concluding groups and activities that no longer have a vital purpose.
Put another way: if the church was starting fresh which groups activities would they actually start because they’re needed or serve a purpose?
It is meant to differentiate from effort invested in mission purpose and effort invested in that which exists only to be maintained.
Here he lists five reasons why this process of evaluation doesn’t take place.

  1. Traditionalism. We do the same things we’ve always done because we’ve always done them that way before. If that sounds redundant, it is. We just can’t get out of our boxes of comfort and false security.
  2. Lack of clear vision. We pile on program after program and meeting after meeting because we have no clear plan or vision. A good vision will lead the church to say “yes” or “no” in a healthy fashion.
  3. Fear. Many leaders fear the consequences of even suggesting the elimination of some programs, ministries, or activities. I know of no simple church without courageous leaders.
  4. Coasting. This barrier is similar to fear. Some leaders don’t want to rock the boat. They just want to hang on to their jobs or their peaceful existence. But the courageous leader is never a coasting leader.
  5. Failure to evaluate. I have encouraged churches to consider a zero-based ministry every year. Ask the question: What ministries, programs, and meetings would we have if we had a clean slate? How would it look differently than our current schedule? Too many churches are eager to add but fearful to subtract.

Read the whole post at Rainer’s site, and then look for related posts on the subject.


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Cooperation, Not Competition

Wednesday mornings in Mount Gambier usually begin with pastors of various churches getting together for prayer and then coffee.
For a few weeks over December/January we have a break, but we’ll be resuming soon.
Why?
Well it takes effort, but we want the Gospel to spread in Mount Gambier, and that means through all the churches and local Christians, not just our own places and people.
Hanging out together helps us not to compete, but to cooperate.
As pastors we want to model genuine Christian love and fellowship.
And the effort expands my own heart for the Gospel.

Part of a short post from Sam Rainer sums up why:

Friends assume the best. Cooperating pastors do not assign malicious motives. They hold each other accountable. When pastors hang out, they ask edifying questions of each other rather than viewing each other with suspicion from a distance.
Friends celebrate successes. Cooperating pastors enjoy hearing about their friends making strides for the kingdom of God.
Friends help each other. Cooperating pastors pray for each other. They look out for each other. They champion the work at each other’s churches.
Friends don’t have territories. Cooperating pastors don’t slice up the community into market territories. There is no need to fence off a territory when you desire to be around someone.

Read the whole post 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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The Psalm Singing Church (via Nick Batzig)

Nick Batzig offers encouragement and resources for churches to consider singing Psalms in public worship during 2018.
From his post:

Perhaps such a neglect has occurred on account of antiquated translations, difficult accompanying tunes or simply because of a lack of familiarity with the Old Testament people, places, events and symbols. Regardless, the church is certainly no better for having passed over the numerous inspired songs in the Psalter.
It would be of enormous benefit to our churches if we would actively seek to reinstitute the practice of Psalm-singing in our congregations. At the very least, churches should try to sing one or more Psalms a month in gathered worship on the Lord’s Day. This takes a measure of planning and instruction on the part of pastors, elders and musicians. However, it is safe to say that any congregation that undertakes such an initiative, will reap rich, spiritual benefit.

Read it all at the Christward Collective.


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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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Worship Of God Is Not A Self-determined Endeavour (via Eric Davis)

Eric Davis offers a few reasons why trying to do church away from church isn’t really church.
Here’s one of his thoughts:

Worship of God is not a self-determined endeavor.
Much of the Bible begins with God laying out what it means, and does not mean, to worship him. One take-away from Exodus and Leviticus is, “Wow. This glorious God does not leave the details of worship up to us.” That’s because one of the great problems with humanity is that depravity renders us unable and unwilling to worship him correctly. We have manufactured 10,000 ways of worship. And every one of them is profane and idolatrous.
Not once in the history of humanity has a person or people devised the correct way to worship the true God. That’s why we need the Bible. Whenever man takes the self-determined approach to worshiping God, he makes an idol. In his grace, God prescribes worship to sinful man for good reason.

“You shall not do as they do in the land of Egypt, where you lived, and you shall not do as they do in the land of Canaan, to which I am bringing you. You shall not walk in their statutes” (Lev. 18:3).

“And you shall not walk in the customs of the nation that I am driving out before you, for they did all these things, and therefore I detested them” (Lev. 20:23).

Consider those Old Testament times. With all of those blood sacrifices, couldn’t someone just offer up a sacrifice at home? Wouldn’t that be good enough as long as they meant well and thought about God? Those who offered a sacrifice away from the tabernacle were to be killed (Lev. 17:8-9).
The point is that proper worship of God is not a self-determined endeavor. God has not left it up to me to decide what defines obediently gathering as the church for corporate worship.

Read more here.

Now there are some who feel the Old Testament isn’t relevant in this matter.
Even those folk have to contend with the situation that God is so clear and precise about gathering in the Old Covenant, while their position is that there are no corporate obligations in the New Covenant.
God doesn’t leave our corporate responsibilities up to how we feel.


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Westminster Confession Of Faith – Lord’s Day 50

Westminster Confession Of Faith – Lord’s Day 50

Chapter 31 – Of Synods and Councils
I. For the better government and further edification of the Church, there ought to be such assemblies as are commonly called synods or councils.
II. As magistrates may lawfully call a synod of ministers and other fit persons to consult and advise with about matters of religion; so, if magistrates be open enemies of the Church, the ministers of Christ, of themselves, by virtue of their office, or they, with other fit persons, upon delegation from their churches, may meet together in such assemblies.
III. It belongs to synods and councils, ministerially, to determine controversies of faith, and cases of conscience; to set down rules and directions for the better ordering of the public worship of God, and government of his Church; to receive complaints in cases of maladministration, and authoritatively to determine the same: which decrees and determinations, if consonant to the Word of God, are to be received with reverence and submission, not only for their agreement with the Word, but also for the power whereby they are made, as being an ordinance of God, appointed thereunto in his Word.
IV. All synods or councils since the apostles’ times, whether general or particular, may err, and many have erred; therefore they are not to be made the rule of faith or practice, but to be used as a help in both.
V. Synods and councils are to handle or conclude nothing but that which is ecclesiastical: and are not to intermeddle with civil affairs which concern the commonwealth, unless by way of humble petition in cases extraordinary; or by way of advice for satisfaction of conscience, if they be thereunto required by the civil magistrate.