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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.

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The Two Missions Of The Church (via Jonathan Leeman)

More like two sides of one coin rather than two separate works.
The church has an inward and an outward focus.
Or, as Jonathan Leeman puts it, to be an embassy and an ambassador:

The narrow mission of a church-as-organized collective is to make disciples and citizens of Christ’s kingdom. The broad mission of a church-as-its-members is to be disciples and citizens of Christ’s kingdom. The narrow employs judge-like or priestly words of formal separation, identification, and instruction. The broad rules and lives as sons of the king, representing the heavenly Father in all of life’s words and deeds. The narrow protects the holy place where God dwells, which is his temple, the church. The broad pushes God’s witness into new territory, expanding where his rule is acknowledged. For illustration purposes, we might say the narrow mission is to be an embassy, while the broad mission is to be an ambassador.

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When You Sing, You Obey (via Tom Olsen)

Tom Olsen provides seven reasons why singing matters for Christians.
The first one is fairly definitive in itself.

1. When you sing, you obey.
Singing isn’t an option in Scripture. It’s a command:
Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God. (Colossians 3:16)
And do not get drunk with wine, for that is debauchery, but be filled with the Spirit, addressing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody to the Lord with your heart… (Ephesians 5:18-19)
God’s people are more than just invited to sing; we are commanded to sing. When we sing, we’re doing what God asks of us!

Read the rest of the article and the other six reasons to sing at Unlocking The Bible.


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What You Win People With Is What You Win Them To (via Jared Wilson)

Invoking the spirit of Monty Python’s Trojan Rabbit, Jared Wilson points out the problem with ‘bait and switch’ forms of evangelistic activity, whether the less mature forms associated with youth ministries or the more sophisticated forms utilised by attractional or seeker focussed churches.
The problem is:

“the gospel of Christ’s finished work became relegated to the end of a service, almost an addendum to the real focal points of the goings-on, and then it frequently became pushed to the end of an entire message series, eventually became saved just for special occasions, and ultimately has been replaced altogether by the shiny legalism of moralistic therapeutic deism.
Eventually the attractional church became all bait, no switch. The approach of today’s attractional church is like the Trojan Rabbit of Monty Python’s Arthurian nincompoops–smuggled inside the castle walls with nobody inside.
As a result so many inside the system, shepherded under this system and joined to it, can’t distinguish between attractive and attractional, practical and pragmatic. When we lose the centrality of the gospel, we lose the ability to think straight.

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Another sign of this is the preaching in these contexts can be biblical, but largely therapeutic or educational (focused on the needs and actions of the hearer), rather than focussed on what Jesus has done for his people.


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Westminster Confession Of Faith – Lord’s Day 42

Westminster Confession Of Faith – Lord’s Day 42

Chapter 25 – Of the Church Cont. (Paragraphs 4-6)
IV. This catholic Church has been sometimes more, sometimes less, visible. And particular Churches, which are members thereof, are more or less pure, according as the doctrine of the gospel is taught and embraced, ordinances administered, and public worship performed more or less purely in them.
V. The purest Churches under heaven are subject both to mixture and error: and some have so degenerated as to become apparently no Churches of Christ. Nevertheless, there shall be always a Church on earth, to worship God according to his will.
VI. There is no other head of the Church but the Lord Jesus Christ: nor can the Pope of Rome in any sense be head thereof; but is that Antichrist, that man of sin and son of perdition, that exalts himself in the Church against Christ, and all that is called God.


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The Beauty Of Churchgoing (via Trevin Wax)

Treven Wax offers an observation about how to nurture an appreciation for corporate worship in an individualistic culture:

In an individualistic age, many people come to church for therapeutic reasons. Does my church help me through my week and give me inspiration and strength? We should not dismiss these reasons for coming to church, but we want people to discover a beauty that goes beyond finding personal fulfillment. We want their ultimate satisfaction to be found in the God whose beauty is life-giving.
For this reason, we pray that people will see how churchgoing fits into the wider lens of God’s redemptive work. God wants to change us. But how?
Virtuous habits in response to God’s grace play a role here. Churchgoing is a spiritual habit, a beautiful one. We should not lift up the occasional visit to church, in which we expect to be awestruck by our experience with God, to change us. Instead, we need to recognize the power of frequent and regular visits to church, the ongoing habit of singing praise to God and hearing him speak through his Word. It’s not the one sermon that changes your life, but the 1,000 sermons you hear over a decade. It’s not the one worship experience that forms you, but the weekly rhythm of refocusing your heart and mind on the God who made you as you praise the Savior who redeemed you and sense the Spirit who indwells you. As James K. A. Smith writes:

We are creatures of habit, that God knows this (since he created us), and thus our gracious, redeeming God meets us where we are by giving us Spirt-empowered, heart-calibrating, habit-forming practices to retrain our loves. This is the means of the Spirit’s transformation, not an alternative to Spirit-shaped sanctification. If we don’t take this seriously, we will, in effect, be giving ourselves over to all of the rival habit-forming practices of our culture.

The beauty of churchgoing is something that happens over time. We long to grow as worshipers who know and love Jesus.

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