Wednesday, July 31, 2013

5 Actions of Satisfied Church Members

Having been actively involved in church now for 47 years, more than half as a pastor, I have noticed these distinctives of those who stick by the stuff in the local church.

1. They’re Givers.
And their giving shows up in many forms.  Not only do they contribute from their finances to demonstrate their love for God and His family, they give by serving one another through volunteer ministry.  They have a Spirit-driven desire to give back through their giftedness. 

Of course, some can give more than others, but it’s not a comparison game.  It’s everybody doing his/her part with whatever God has given you.

2. They’re Supportive of Leadership.
I learned this saying in a freshman class in college about leadership: “The heights of leadership are piteously cold”.  Leaders, because they are in front, are always the first to get shot!  It would be great if every church could have the Good Shepherd Jesus as its Pastor, but that’s not how God designed it.

Instead, He calls and qualifies sinful men and women to take on roles of leadership in the church so that the sheep in the flock have models we can see to follow.  Whether you’re a pastor, deacon, small group leader or ministry team leader, you should want to do your best and be led yourself by the Spirit.  But you know you’re not perfect and will at times “get it wrong”.

Yet the Scriptures are clear that leaders are to “stand in front” (that’s the meaning of the Greek word in the New Testament for “leader”) and that we who follow are to support them.   Often that's as simple as a word of encouragement!
That could be as simple as praying for them, not only when you think they’re doing a good job, but when you question their direction.  The only exception for following would be if leaders are in clear, proven gross sin.  In fact, we’re told that those who lead will stand before Christ and give an account for how we followed! 

3. They Love Being Together With Their Church Family.
We’ve discovered that those who serve together and who share together, not only on Sundays, but also through the week really love their church.  They look forward to getting together in small groups for study, fellowship and caring.  They find ways to do fun things together, too, like going out for a meal, or taking in a movie, or meeting at the park with their kids. 

God used specific words to describe His ideal for the church.  Some of those words are “household”, “body”, “members one of another”, “belonging” and “fellowship”, which means partnership.  And He did not intend for “church” to be a Sunday morning only part of our lives.  That was evident from the very start of the church in Acts 2 as they met “daily”.  They depended on each other. They were a “new community”.  

From rubbing shoulders in service and fellowship we learn how to face life, and we are encouraged that we don’t have to face it alone!  When that becomes part of my fabric as a believer then my church becomes much more than a “place”, and I can’t wait to meet again with my forever family.

4. They Live Out the mantra “It’s Not About Me”.
While some initially seek out a church because of a personal or family need (and that’s a good thing), if they become Christ-followers they soon discover that God put us together as a church not to satisfy ourselves, but to edify – to build up – others.  Jesus never sought to fulfill His needs or wants, did He?  He lived for others in need and did whatever He could to help them.

Ultimately, as Jesus prayed in the Garden “Not my will but Yours” He paved a clear path for us to seek God’s will first.  We’re often reminded in our Sunday worship gatherings that we are there for Him and not for ourselves.  And it’s when we can learn to abandon ourselves and lift Him higher that we discover He meets our needs abundantly. 

Satisfied partners in a church live that kind of crucified life.  That means they’re not too easily offended when things don’t go their way because it’s not about them.  It’s about Him and about reaching those who don’t yet know Him.  They’ve learned to give it all over to Him. 

5. They Walk in Grace.
We know that salvation – moving from being lost in our sin to being given forgiveness and eternal life – is an act of God’s grace.  Grace means God gives me what I haven’t deserved or earned.  In fact, I deserve the opposite.  But because He loves me, He demonstrates that love through wiping out my wrongs and showing me kindness.

Wouldn’t it be great if the church were full of perfect people?  One day, it will be, but that’s in the future in heaven.  Until then we remain imperfect…all of us.  And when imperfect people get together and rub shoulders there will inevitably be friction.  If it were not for God’s grace living in us through the power of the Holy Spirit we would be miserable all the time with one another.  But living by grace means I understand first that I’m going to fail at times.  And I have to allow others to do the same.  When I fail, I hope they’ll forgive, just like when they fail I must quickly offer forgiveness as well.

Jesus laid it out on the table for us in His model prayer when He said, “Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us”.  That’s grace. Only when it permeates our relationships together can we dwell together in unity.

Let’s never forget that being together as a church is very much a dress rehearsal for eternity.  It would be so easy if God immediately at salvation swept us right to heaven! But for His glory on earth He not only left us here for the time being, but placed us into relationship with other believers through the church.  And being a good Father, He wants us to be satisfied with where He has placed us!

That’s not always easy.  But it’s always possible with His help.

Saturday, July 20, 2013

Building Disciple Leaders Among Youth

On Wednesday I hooked up with a group of 19 young people in Cloverdale, BC for the final leg of a trip into the coastal mountains.  I've come to Red Soul Rising, a camp in the "bush" along the Lillooet River, to serve in whatever way (currently I'm a breakfast cook), to spend time with long-time missionary friends Don and Mary DeHart, and I'm discovering, to learn how to build leaders and disciples in the context of the local church.

Ron Kirkeeng has been the youth pastor at Crystal Lake Evangelical Free Church north of Chicago for a decade and a half or so.  That means he's leading his second generation of young men and women, pastoring and mentoring them.  Crystal Lake is not a small church, and Ron regularly ministers to over 150 teenagers each week.  For almost that many years Ron has taken a team from his youth and some post-youth singles to staff a camp - not the typical US 21st century version of camp - for 9-13 year old Native American kids. 

The camp has to be re-set up every year, and an advance team, mostly from CL church drive up a week early with supplies, gas cookers and staples for the week.  Then, four days before the camp actually starts the majority of the team - this year 19 - fly in to Seattle, rent vans and make the 6 hour drive up to camp.  The costs for each team member are covered by the team member.  They must raise the majority of the funds, over $1000 each, for plane fare, food, transportation, etc.

When they get here they work!  Camp has to be cleaned up.  Logs and branches are moved to piles where they'll be burned in the winter.  Tents are set up (no cabins or AC here).  The "pool" - a hole dug into the earth and lined with a heavy black rubber tarp - has to have the accumulation of snow and rain water pumped out.  Then the liner is removed and pressure washed and replaced.  Two logs of substantial size were carried by a dozen or so to help hold down the sides.  Finally water is pumped in via pvc pipe from an adjacent mountain stream.

These youth are the kitchen staff as well.  Everyone is expected to be a self-starter and do what needs to be done without being told.  About a third of them are first-timers, being shown the ropes by their veteran friends.  Servanthood is the lifestyle here.  And all this is in preparation for the week of campers. 

They'll learn cross-cultural skills, teamwork, following orders, and lots of selflessness.  They'll only get to bathe every few days and that in a natural hot spring.  The girls washed their hair in an icy cold  mountain river yesterday evening

What impresses me most is the longevity of this relationship.  Sean, now 26 and 2nd in "command" started coming here to serve when he was thirteen.  Many are in their 4th, 5th and 6th years of giving up two weeks in July to invest in the lives of First Nations' kids.  Those with jobs either take vacation to do this or simply lose two weeks of summer income.  And while they'll all tell you they're having fun, the fun is not game-centered, but the fun of growing mature and building life-long memories, disciplines and relationships.

 These "kids" are in the Word every day and learning from one another what it truly means to give up something to invest in eternal things.  The level of commitment has to be strong to do what they're doing.  Pre-trip requirements were set high.  Classes and meetings were mandatory.  There is no place here for whining and slackness is not tolerated in a gracious way.

I don't know Crystal Lake Church at all.  But if I was a betting man I'd put a year's wages on the strength of their church and that their youth are at the heart of that strength.   I'm sure these are the cream of the crop.  As they mature into adulthood and take the roles of church leadership in the years ahead they'll be prepared.  As they face the tough challenges of life that face everyone, they won't falter because they've learned spiritual toughness. 

These young people show that they don't need everything handed to them.  I'm grateful to stand back and see how God is shaping them through hard work for which they have willingly volunteered.  They're putting their hands to the plow here in the wilderness.  They've left their nets and are following Christ in ways that will set the path for the rest of their lives.

And I'm learning from them!