Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Have You Left Your First Love?

But I have this against you, that you have abandoned the love you had at first. Remember, therefore, from where you have fallen; repent, and do the works you did at first. If not, I will come to you and remove your lampstand from its place, unless you repent.” (Revelation 2: 4-5)

Ed Stetzer serves as director of LifeWay Research and missiologist in residence at LifeWay in Nashville, Tennessee. He is an erudite (great learning), having earned two masters and two doctoral degrees. He has written several books: Comeback Churches, Breaking the Missional Code, Lost and Found, etc. He writes and blogs extensively. He is a man who speaks to today’s culture and to the way today’s church goes about its Kingdom work. He is one of the most highly respected voices in Southern Baptist life when it comes to high-impact ministry today.

He was interviewed recently by "REV! Magazine” concerning the "80/20" rule in most churches - where 20 percent of the people do 80 percent of the work. In the interview, he discussed the “most common sin in many churches today. Here is the interview:

Ed, Group's church leadership unit has a vision of 80/20 by 2020. We want to flip the 80/20 rule so that by the year 2020, eighty percent of regular church attendees are actively serving in some ministry. Unfortunately, our State of the Church '09 study indicated that currently it's more like fifteen percent of the people who are active in ministry right now. Why do you think that is?

Part of it is that we have to recognize that we've created the system that we loathe. I don't think the reason 15 percent serve is because 85 percent are lazy. We've created a system that glorifies the clergy and marginalized the laity. We got the outcome we created programs for. We've become "clergified." There's a 3-tiered structure: laypeople, clergy and missionaries.

All religions tend to create a class of people who are above others so (1) they can revel in that and (2) the rest of us can say it's their job. Christianity was started without any of those structures, and ended up like so many false religions do when they create a ministry caste structure. When we see real movements of God take off, they happen when people are free. Look at the thriving house church movement around the world.

So how do we break free from that tiered structure?

Part of what we have to do is help pastors understand that ministry is something that has to be owned by all of us. We shouldn't call ourselves ministers; we should call ourselves pastor/elders. The church needs to be unleashed, and we have to recognize that it's the normal activity of normal believers to engage in normal ministry. Pastors and congregations are in a co-dependent relationship. My dad was a drunk and my mom would rescue him. She gained her identity from rescuing my father. The church has fallen into the same thing. We've created a clergy system with a superman syndrome. The pastor thinks it's their job to rescue the church--and they get affirmed for doing it. So we get our identity from doing things the people should be doing.

Once we've identified the problem, how do we fix it?

The way these things are always broken is that the co-dependent recognizes the problem first. So mom one day said, "I'm not going to take care of you, because all I'm doing is helping you to fail rather than stand." I tell pastors all the time to stop enabling that. If people ask you to talk to their kids about Jesus, say no. That's their job.

If I preach about gay marriage, everybody cheers. If I preach about sin, you can hear the amens ring. But those aren't the real problems. I tell people that the biggest sin in our church is you sitting there doing nothing and still calling yourself a follower of Jesus. Ultimately you have to get your leaders on board. I did a project on how you get people off the bleachers and into the game. We got rid of two families that got mad, and a year later everybody in the church was serving and the church doubled in size.

Use every form of influence you can to move the leaders and the people. As much thinking as we are putting into evangelism right now, we need to do that much thinking about how we're going to move ahead.

The elephant in the evangelical room is that we're not making disciples. People are still struggling through how to do that. We studied 2,500 Protestant church attendees and did so again a year later and the spiritual development was shocking and frustrating.

You've said that ministry goes beyond the church walls.

My guess is that above your fifteen percent, there are another five to ten percent that are already doing some community service without their church tracking that kind of service. We need every member in ministry, but we also need every member on mission. Churches need to recognize that ministry outside church is still ministry, and we need to recognize, empower and measure that.

The term "call to ministry" is not a good thing. If you're a Christian, you're called to ministry. John 20:21 says if you're a Christian you're also sent on mission. The only question is where and to whom.

Ed publicly stated what we as a staff addressed back in September (09) when our “Servant’s Heart” series was formed. Our goal was and still is “getting people out of the pew and into “high-impact servant ministry.” That is our yearlong pursuit and our lifelong passion. When asked how the church can “break free” of its “clergy responsibility servant ministry” Ed stated:

Part of what we have to do is help pastors understand that ministry is something that has to be owned by all of us. We shouldn't call ourselves ministers; we should call ourselves pastor/elders. The church needs to be unleashed, and we have to recognize that it's the normal activity of normal believers to engage in normal ministry. Pastors and congregations are in a co-dependent relationship.

What a challenge to me! I am a pastor/teacher, called by God to “equip the saints” to serve. I am certain there are many areas where I and our pastoral staff have failed to do just that. We must enter a “co-dependent servant relationship.”

I talked about the most common sin in many churches. I am guessing there are many, but I think one of the most common is a lack of obedience.

My observation is that we often preach against sins that are not a problem in our church (sins more prevalent in the world) while not preaching against sins that are a common problem in the church (like lack of ministry involvement in this case).

So, let’s evaluate our lives and our ministry by considering Ed’s assessment of the church: “I tell people that the biggest sin in our church is you sitting there doing nothing and still calling yourself a follower of Jesus.”

I cannot help but reflect on Christ’s charge to the church at Ephesus (Rev. 2:1-7). Christ says to a church. "You have left your first love, which is me."

Those must have been hard words for the church at Ephesus to hear. They are hard words for any church to hear. They are hard words for us to hear because in hearing them we realize that there is a possibility that Christ could be saying it to us. If it were possible for the church at Ephesus to lose their first love, it is possible for us to do it.

I don’t imagine that their forsaking their first love happened in one giant step. It wasn’t that just one day they decided not to love God any more. It was a gradual thing. For a while their love for God was so great that people were drawn into their fellowship. But then, people who used to pray a lot gradually stopped praying. People who may have been giving a lot gradually stopped giving. People who used to witness to the lost gradually stopped witnessing. Until finally, when Jesus looks at this church, He says, "This I have against you. You have forsaken your first love."

Today, will you join me in an honest, open, spiritual assessment of the heart? What is Christ saying to you concerning your love for Him and your desire to serve His church? Have you lost your passion for spiritual disciplines? Have you gradually grown complacent?

Are you as passionate today about salvation as you were the day Jesus entered your life? Do you desire daily intimacy with Christ? Are you being conformed to His image? Are you serving your church and your community? Do you know how God has designed you for “high-definition servanthood?”

Jesus charged the Ephesian believers to “remember the height from which you have fallen, repent (turn from all known sin), and repeat the things you did at first.” While some things have changed over the years, Christ’s call to spiritual health has not! Remember! Repent! Repeat! That’s some pretty good “Monday Morning Manna!”

Until Next Week,

Dr. Derek

Monday, January 18, 2010

A Change of Heart

Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal, but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” (Matthew 6: 19-21)

William Burns, the son of a Scottish minister, was determined not to follow in his father’s footsteps. He graduated from the University of Aberdeen in 1831 and began studying for his law career. His father, wanting so much for his son to follow after him, began praying fervently for William to have a change of heart.

Late one night he heard his father praying for him and said, “There can be no doubt where his heart is and where he is going.” Not long after that, God changed him. It was January 7, 1832, that “first the Spirit of God shone with full light upon the glory of Jesus as a Savior for such as I was.” With William’s faith came a loss of interest in law, and in its place a desire to share the Gospel with those who have never heard the gospel.

William later became a missionary in India, followed by eight years preaching revivals in Scotland, England, Ireland, and Canada. In 1847, at age thirty-two, Burns traveled to China as the first missionary of the Presbyterian Church of England. He ministered in many port cities, but always with a desire of reaching the people of inland China. He became so dedicated to his work that, when receiving furlough, he only spent one month away, then went back to work deeper in China.

He became terminally ill in December 1867 and wrote this farewell letter to his mother on January 15, 1868:

At the end of last year I got a severe chill which has not yet left the system, producing chilliness and fever every night and for the last two nights this has been followed by perspiration, which rapidly diminished the strength. Unless it should please God to rebuke the disease, it is evident what the end must soon be, and I write these lines beforehand to say that I am happy and ready through the abounding grace of God either to live or to die. May the God of all consolation comfort you when the tidings of my decease shall reach you, and through the redeeming blood of Jesus may we meet with joy before the throne above.

When William Burns became a Christian, he replaced his desire to make money with a passion to make men and women rich in faith. In your life has God ever replaced a desire for wealth with a spiritual one? Jesus said, “Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth.” If our desire is to store up for heaven, then we must measure our passion for the “here and now.” May God grant us a change of heart for all things that are non-eternal.

Until Next Week,


Monday, January 11, 2010

A Selfless Servant

Greater love has no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends.” (John 15:12)

I wanted to share this illustration in the first message of our servant series. However, both my long-winded nature as a preacher and our desire to beat the Methodists and Presbyterians to the choicest Sunday restaurants prevented me from telling you this incredible story of what can happen when we lay our selfish nature aside and genuinely love others.

In his book Holy Sweat, Tim Hansel recounts one of the greatest acts of selflessness I have ever read (pp. 146-147). Here it is in its entirety:

In Ernest Gordon’s true account of life in a World War II Japanese prison camp, Through the Valley of the Kwai, there is a story that never fails to move me. It is about a man who through giving it all away literally transformed a whole camp of soldiers. The man’s name was Angus McGillivray. Angus was a Scottish prisoner in one of the camps filled with Americans, Australians, and Britons who had helped build the infamous Bridge over the River Kwai.

The camp had become an ugly situation. A dog-eat-dog mentality had set in. Allies would literally steal from each other and cheat each other; men would sleep on their packs and yet have them stolen from under their heads. Survival was everything. The law of the jungle prevailed...until the news of Angus McGillivray’s death spread throughout the camp. Rumors spread in the wake of his death. No one could believe big Angus had succumbed. He was strong, one of those whom they had expected to be the last to die. Actually, it wasn’t the fact of his death that shocked the men, but the reason he died. Finally they pieced together the true story.

The Argylls (Scottish soldiers) took their buddy system very seriously. Their buddy was called their “mucker,” and these Argylls believed that is was literally up to each of them to make sure their “mucker” survived. Angus’s mucker, though, was dying, and everyone had given up on him, everyone, of course, but Angus. He had made up his mind that his friend would not die. Someone had stolen his mucker’s blanket. So Angus gave him his own, telling his mucker that he had “just come across an extra one.” Likewise, every mealtime, Angus would get his rations and take them to his friend, stand over him and force him to eat them, again stating that he was able to get “extra food.” Angus was going to do anything and everything to see that his buddy got what he needed to recover.

But as Angus’s mucker began to recover, Angus collapsed, slumped over, and died. The doctors discovered that he had died of starvation complicated by exhaustion. He had been giving of his own food and shelter. He had given everything he had -- even his very life. The ramifications of his acts of love and unselfishness had a startling impact on the compound.

As word circulated of the reason for Angus McGillivray’s death, the feel of the camp began to change. Suddenly, men began to focus on their mates, their friends, and humanity of living beyond survival, of giving oneself away. They began to pool their talents -- one was a violin maker, another was an orchestra leader, another a cabinet maker, another a professor. Soon the camp had an orchestra full of homemade instruments and a church called the “Church Without Walls” that was so powerful, so compelling, that even the Japanese guards attended.

The men began a university, a hospital, and a library system. The place was transformed; an all but smothered love revived, all because one man named Angus gave all he had for his friend. For many of those men this turnaround meant survival. What happened is an awesome illustration of the potential unleashed when one person actually gives it all away.

Speaking of the “potential unleashed when one person actually gives it all away”, one need look no further than Calvary and the mighty number that will one day reside in Heaven. Jesus gave it all away in order to redeem us from the pit! What are we willing to give away to demonstrate our new nature? The watching world looks for evidence that a redeemed, blood-bought, selfless remnant resides in their community. Not that a gathering takes each Sunday, but that a mighty number model the selfless heart of a servant. That, my friend, is OUR calling.

Until Next Week,

Dr. Derek

Monday, January 4, 2010

New Year's Resolutions

For this reason I bow my knees before the Father, from whom every family in heaven and on earth is named, that according to the riches of his glory he may grant you to be strengthened with power through his Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith—that you, being rooted and grounded in love, may have strength to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled with all the fullness of God.” (Ephesians 3:14-19)

A boy told his father, "Dad, if three frogs were sitting on a limb that hung over a pool, and one frog decided to jump off into the pool, how many frogs would be left on the limb?" The dad replied, "Two." "No," the son replied. "There are three frogs and one decides to jump, how many are left?" The dad said, "Oh, I get it, if one decides to jump, the others would too. So there are none left." The boy said, "No dad, the answer is three. The frog only decided to jump."

Does that sound like last year’s resolution? Great resolutions, but often we only decide, and months later, we are still on the same limb of do-nothing. We may not even be able to remember our “inspired” resolutions after a few weeks. Or you may be like Dan Mahan who boldly states, “Last New Years, I made 6 resolutions and I am proud to say that I kept them all year long. I kept them in an envelope in the top drawer of my desk!”

As we begin a new decade of opportunity, I am going to approach my resolutions with a winning attitude. When I struggle to achieve a few, or even if I fail in every area, I refuse to scrap them. In fact, I am going to share my resolutions with you, today, in hope that you will love me enough to help me see them through. Here’s my list:


· Start every day in the Word and in prayer

· Lead my boys to spiritual maturity

· Listen to at least 2 sermons a week from someone else

· Lead our staff by example in serving others

· Read 2 books a month on personal leadership development


· Lose 10 pounds

· Ride my motorcycle at least once a week

· Enjoy the adventures of raising boys

· Take a Faith Riders trip to The Dragon’s Tail


· Date my wife

· Spend more time with my boys

· Stay off the computer when I get home from work

· Turn off my cell phone when I get home

· Realize my family is my #1 ministry


· Lead my church without apology

· Pour my life into our staff

· Become more dogmatic about our vision

· Love and appreciate our volunteers more

· Lead our members to crazy acts of servanthood

· Continue our mission in Honduras and NY

So, will you help me achieve some big goals? Will you invest in my life as I march toward sanctification? Will you share your resolutions with someone who will love you enough to help you grow in Christ? As we attack our new resolutions, please remember the three key ingredients to success:

· A Servant Heart

· A Winning Attitude

· A Sanctified Life

Until Next Week,

Dr. Derek