The Way Forward

2020 has been the craziest year of all of our lives. It’s been chaotic and changed the way we do life. In the midst of all the chaos the question we are all asking is, “where do we go from here?”

If you haven’t figured out yet, we aren’t going back to normal any time soon.  We may never go back to normal as we knew it.  This leaves us with two choices:

1. The church can try to hold on to the way it did things prior to 2020 instead of facing our changing reality. This could lead to us becoming obsolete just like the horse and buggy, the Sears mail order catalog, and Blockbuster video. To learn more, check out this message.

2. Adapt and adjust and realize that while our message never changes, methods always do. If we take the proper perspective on the adversity of 2020, recalibrating our methods can actually help the church fulfill its mission.

One of my favorite examples of this is in Acts 8.  Look at verse 1:

1 At that time a great persecution arose against the church which was at Jerusalem; and they were all scattered throughout the regions of Judea and Samaria, except the apostles.

Persecution hit the church after the stoning of Steven and they scattered.  Sounds bad right?  Now look at verse 4:

Therefore those who were scattered went everywhere preaching the word.

God doesn’t send adversity our way, however, He will often use adversity to help direct us into His plans and purposes for our life.    This is what He did with the early church.  Jesus’s final words in Acts 1:8 were be witnesses to me in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.”

Until persecution hit, the disciples didn’t obey Jesus fully.  They were witnesses in Jerusalem…and that’s it.

His instructions were to be witnesses in Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria, and the end of the earth.  Jesus wanted them to go, but for some reason they didn’t.  Knowing human nature, it was probably because they were comfortable in the known surroundings of Jerusalem.  I get it – it’s scary and not convenient to go to new places like Judea, Samaria, and the end of the earth, but we must obey the command to go.

I believe the same principle applies to the church today.  We have been told to go into all the world, but really we haven’t.  Many Christians don’t put emphasis on winning the lost; they talk about it, but they don’t actually try and do it.  Think about it, in the last year, how many people have you shared the gospel with?  How many people have you led to the Lord? How many people who are unsaved have you invited to church?

I don’t say any of that to condemn.  I’m a pastor and I feel pretty bad about my answers to those questions too.  The point isn’t to shame, it’s to challenge us to do what Jesus called us to do.  We should be as smart as the early church that was scattered in Acts 8:4.  They began to preach the word of God.  We need to share our faith with others and offer to pray for them when they have needs.  We need to demonstrate the gospel of the kingdom.

I believe now is a season when the church worldwide needs to rethink some of our approach to winning the lost and discipling the nations. Have we been effective? Honestly, not as effective as we should be. Here are some things we need to evaluate:

1. Are we going out into our communities to reach the unreached? Jesus said go. He didn’t say wait for them to come to you. Our churches must be intentionally outward focused. If we aren’t, we are kidding ourselves if we think we are going to win the world.

2. Do unsaved/unchurched people feel comfortable coming to church? And no I’m talking about watering down the message of the gospel to make people comfortable to stay in their sin. I’m saying are we welcoming and do we make people feel loved, valued, and like we are glad they are at church?

Many people never darken the doors of a church because they believe they will be judged. Many of them are right. Many Christians are highly critical of seekers and baby Christians who start coming to church because they still have sin in their lives, don’t always wear the right attire, don’t know all the songs, or the proper protocol for how to “do church.”

Many of our churches have become Christian clubs that cater to folks who are already believers. They are more inward focused and try to cater to their current members while asking very little of them. These churches resist change because they want to keep things they way they are instead of reimagining the possibilities and recognize what might be.

Unintentionally, we sort of become like the early church that stayed in Jerusalem – comfortable. I believe we need to stop catering to the Christian consumer and we need to begin to start making disciples. A major part of discipleship is being intentionally focused on reaching the world. In order to that, we need a practical strategy – see my next point 🙂

3. Our problems in the church world are systemic and systemic problems require systemic change. WE NEED A STRATEGY TO CHANGE. The majority of people reading this article would agree that churches have not been outward focused, can be judgmental, and have catered to consumer Christians instead of making disciples. Many of us have recognized the church has had these problems for years and yet the church at large hasn’t changed.

I believe a lot of the reasons the church hasn’t changed is because leaders haven’t brought forth a practical strategy to be outwardly focused and culturally relevant while still having the word of God as our foundation. I don’t want pretend to have all of the answers, but I did want to share some things we are beginning this fall at doing at Grace Life Church to recalibrate the way we do church in order to take the gospel outside the four walls.  I hope this is a model some can follow and will provoke thought in all of to see NEW things I don’t see yet.

1. We are looking at ways to improve our online church experience. While many churches didn’t begin live-streaming until March, we were ahead of the curve because we began live-streaming our services two years ago. With that said, we don’t believe online church stops with live-streaming. We believe the next step in the process is to build an online church community.

As much as I hate to say this, many people won’t physically attend a church gathering, but that doesn’t mean they don’t need to hear the gospel. With that thought in mind we redesigned our online church platform a couple of months ago so we now have a moderator on our website that hosts the service while people watch. The moderator is able to answer questions, pray for people, direct people to small groups, and how to get involved in church life. We also provide a link to my sermon notes, a Bible app, and easy to use links to our small groups and online giving. It’s a welcoming experience because people are worth it. Here is the link to our online church website.

We are looking at many other things we can do to improve the online church experience and reach more people with the gospel. All of this required us getting out of our comfort zone and looking at new ways to share the word of God.

2.  We are theming our small group ministry to strengthen our church body as we navigate through this crisis as well as prepare them to minister to the lost.  We are only doing two topics in our small groups this fall because we want to build synergy and unity around the ideas that God is good and because He is good, He wants us to let the world know about His goodness. The curriculums we are doing are “God is Good” by Bill Johnson and “The Daniel Dilemna” by Chris Hodges.

“God is Good” explores what we should do in a world of fear, disease, crisis, torment, uncertainty, and hopelessness – issues that both Christians and non-Christians are dealing with right now. The book then reveals the goodness of God expressed through Jesus which offers practical answers and solutions to everyday life. One of the reasons a lot of people don’t give their life to the Lord is because they struggle to how God can be good if our world is so messed up. Our goal as church leadership is to equip our church body with the answers to these questions and also offer a curriculum to the seeker that will explore the questions they are asking so they can come to a place of faith.

“The Daniel Dilemma” seeks to answer the question about how Christians can stay engaged in the ever shifting, ungodly culture around us while also influencing it for good. How do Christians stay strong without becoming brittle and dogmatic? How do we love people vastly different in their attitudes and lifestyles without compromising our biblical beliefs? Our goal for this group is to teach Christians how to live and bring truth without coming off harsh, condemning, and irrelevant.

Having a specific theme to our small groups is a departure for Grace Life Church because we have always allowed our groups to focus on whatever topics they like. We don’t believe that was wrong previously, however, we believe in this current season of chaos we have need to focus our entire church body around a couple topics that will build unity, synergy, and equip us to face the problems of our broken world. We are leaving our comfort zone to do something new in order to be more effective.

We will offer our small groups both in the traditional in person settings and by Zoom video conferencing software in order to accommodate as many as possible. Zoom video conferencing gives us the advantage to be flexible if another quarantine is enforced in North Carolina and people are unable or unwilling to meet in homes. It also creates a less invasive way for a seeker to join the group.

Doing a video conference small group requires many to leave their comfort zone. It’s worth it though because it helps us reach more people. We are married to the message of the gospel, not the method for how we present it.

3.  Targeted Outreach for Families in Need – This fall we will begin focusing our outreach ministry to support families in need.  Families have been challenged in unprecedented ways by all that is going on and we have an open door to show the love of Christ to many who are in need right now! Click here to see the full announcement from our July 26th service. 

We believe one of the most impactful things we can do to help our community is to meet the needs of families.  We will begin providing goods such as food, clothing, toys, and ministry resources (books, curriculums, DVDs, etc.) this fall. Long term, we will eventually begin to host family movie nights, game nights, provide family counseling and much, much, more.

The Bible teaches that revival begins when the hearts of the fathers turn toward the the children and children turn toward the fathers. The church is called to obey God and help heal families and the generations. When we do this an anointing is released that heals our earth. You can check out this series on Sonship or this series called Heal Our Land to learn more about how revival happens when the hearts of fathers turn toward children.

We believe an improved online church experience, focused small groups that are outwardly focused on revealing Jesus to the world, and serving our community in practical ways will help strengthen our culture of being an outward focused church. While we have always been outward focused, we are trying to take it up a notch because the need is great and the assignment is ours.

I don’t want to pretend doing these three things are the magic bullet to seeing thousands saved in our community, but I do think they are important systemic steps we can take to influence our world.

I believe we are in a season like the early church where the way forward is not to look back. The way forward isn’t to live a life of comfort, it is to live a life of faith where we all get out of our comfort zones and do the things Jesus has always wanted us to do; go into all the world and disciple the nations. I’d encourage you to seek the Lord and ask Him if their are areas in your own life where He wants to break you out of your comfort zone so He can make you a more effective representative of Him in the earth.

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