“The new wine is found in the cluster.” Isa 65:8 NKJV
The fourth, and perhaps the most frustrating challenge we face when it comes to church growth, is to involve them. Why is that? A message on a bulletin board outside a church gives us a clue. The top line says, “We care about you,” and the line underneath reads: “Sundays. 10 a.m. only.” A cartoon by Erik Johnson puts it another way. At the top in big bold letters is a sign that reads: “The challenge of starting a men’s ministry.” Standing directly under the sign is a group of bored-looking guys. To the right of the group is the pastor, who quips: “So far, the only thing we have in common is an aversion to singing, socializing, and sharing.” People can feel lost and lonely in a crowd, even if it’s in church. Sitting in a chair looking at the back of somebody’s head for an hour and a half doesn’t meet anyone’s emotional, relational, or spiritual needs. As a member of Christ’s body, the church, it’s your job to take the first step and initiate contact with those around you. Jesus went out of His way to love the fallen, the fraudulent, and the faithless—people others wouldn’t have anything to do with. When someone comes into Life Fellowship and finds Christ, your job has only begun. They are called to serve, and you are called to show them how, when, and where. “The new wine is found in the cluster.” Wine speaks of joy. But you can’t get it out of a single grape, you’ve got to have a “cluster.” Are you getting the idea?
“They were all filled with the Holy Spirit.” Ac 4:31 NKJV
Inspire them. To be inspired is to feel motivated and excited about what you are doing. The story is told of a little boy sitting in church with his mother. On the platform behind the pastor were three flags; the little boy asked her about the first one. “That’s our nation’s flag,” she said. Then he wanted to know about the second flag. She whispered, “That’s the Christian flag.” Finally he asked about the third flag. Telling him to be quiet, she whispered, “That’s for those who died in service.” Innocently he asked, “Which service did they die in, the morning or evening service?” Yes, your church should be a place of reverence and order, but it should also be alive with the power and presence of God. A sign on a little country store said it all: “There’s no place anywhere near this place, that’s anything like this place, so this must be the place!” That’s what God wants His church to be. You ask, “What was church like back in the days of the early apostles?” Distinctive! Dynamic! Demonstrative! “When they had prayed, the place where they were assembled…was shaken; and they were all filled with the Holy Spirit, and they spoke the word of God with boldness.” According to the latest Barna poll, nowadays a “committed” church member is somebody who attends church twice a month. Wow! The New Testament believers went every day. Furthermore, “They were all (every member) filled with the Holy Spirit, and they spoke the word of God with boldness.” Jesus is many things—but boring isn’t one of them. So let’s invite people, instruct them, and inspire them!
“My people are destroyed for lack of knowledge.” Hos 4:6 NKJV
Instruct them. “Go…make disciples…teaching them to observe all things that I have commanded you” (Mt 28:19-20 NKJV). When your focus is on not only winning people to Jesus but making them disciples of Jesus, He promises, “I am with you” (v.20NKJV). Today we are raising a scripturally unenlightened generation. In a survey conducted in New York City, nine out of ten people couldn’t repeat one of the Ten Commandments or name one of the first four books of the New Testament. One man thought Dan and Beersheba were husband and wife! Another thought an epistle was the wife of an apostle! We smile, but it’s a deadly serious issue. God said, “My people are destroyed for lack of knowledge.” Jesus said, “Are you not in error because you do not know the Scriptures?” (Mk 12:24 NIV). Many of the problems we seek counseling for could be resolved, and in some cases avoided altogether, if we took time each day to get into God’s Word. The reason many of us are spiritually sick is not because the medicine failed, but because we don’t take it. Basically, we’re all motivated by reward. So read this: “This Book of the Law shall not depart from your mouth, but you shall meditate in it day and night, that you may observe to do according to all that is written in it. For then you will make your way prosperous, and then you will have good success” (Jos 1:8 NKJV). Do you want to be strong spiritually? Get into the Scriptures. Do you want to succeed in life? Get into the Scriptures.
“And the Lord added to the church daily.” Ac 2:47 NKJV
God doesn’t mind your church having a small attendance. What He objects to is your church having a small vision, for that limits what He can do through you. The story’s told of a tourist visiting a small English village. He asked an old gentleman, “Is there anything special about this place?” The old man smiled and said, “Yes, you can start here and go anywhere else on earth.” In Acts chapter 5 verse 28 the New Testament church was accused of “filling Jerusalem with your doctrine.” And in chapter 17 verse 6 Paul and Silas were accused of “turning the world upside down.” What impact! God has a plan for church growth, and you have a part to play. You are called to:
Invite them. You say, “Isn’t that my pastor’s job?” No, your pastor is a shepherd. Shepherds don’t give birth to sheep; sheep do that. When was the last time you brought someone to church? If you discovered a cure for cancer or Alzheimer’s, wouldn’t you share it? Jesus said, “A certain man gave a great supper and invited many, and sent his servant…to say to those who were invited, ‘Come, for all things are now ready’” (Lk14:16-17 NKJV). When the invited guests started making excuses as to why they couldn’t come, “The master said to the servant, ‘Go out into the highways and hedges, and compel them to come in, that my house may be filled’” (v. 23 NKJV). Note the words “compel them to come.” Pick them up in your car, arrange breakfast before church or lunch afterwards. Get creative, but whatever you do, bring them to church!
“A good man leaves an inheritance.” Pr 13:22 NIV
Paul probably didn’t leave any money or real estate when he died, but he did leave a legacy—a superior one! His legacy was his writings, those he won to Christ, those he mentored, and his enduring influence. Every day your life touches other lives in unseen ways. You don’t have to know someone personally in order to experience the blessing of their legacy. Like walking into an empty room and catching a whiff of someone’s perfume, your impact can continue to be felt long after you’re gone. Usually we associate legacies with dying, and we don’t particularly like the topic. Or we assume since our legacy won’t be revealed for years, we don’t need to start investing in it now. In some cases we feel like we’ve little or no control over what we leave behind anyway. Not so: “A good man leaves an inheritance.” What will yours be? More importantly, what’s it going to cost you? Since the best gifts aren’t always handed down in your will, why not try for something more meaningful—something that points to who you were? It’s one thing to measure success by the money in your bank account, the size of your real estate holdings, and the value of your stock portfolio. It’s entirely another to measure it by intangibles like being a faithful marriage partner, raising great kids, building God’s kingdom, and leaving your light burning brightly when you go. All great legacies come with a price tag. To move beyond mediocrity, you must invest every day in the accounts of those who follow you!
“Remove the obstacles out of the way.” Isa 57:14 NIV
In Bible days marathons weren’t run on smooth tracks, but over pathways filled with obstacles that could cause a runner to stumble and lose the race. Here are three obstacles you need to look out for as you run your life’s race: (1) An unforgiving attitude. “If you do not forgive, neither will your Father in heaven forgive your trespasses” (Mk 11:26 NKJV). When the mention of someone’s name triggers resentment, stop and pray, “Father, I forgive them as You’ve forgiven me. Whatever I ask for myself in blessing, I ask for them in double measure.” When you retaliate, you deny God the right to show mercy and deal with the situation His way. Don’t play God. You’ve received mercy—pass it on! (2) An unhealthy relationship. Paul writes, “Bad company corrupts good character” (1Co 15:33 NLT). On the journey of life you get to choose your traveling companions. If you give your time to those who aren’t worthy of it, you’ve no right to complain. Become more selective. Choose your friends from among those who share your values, understand your God-given purpose, and strengthen you. (3) An undecided heart. Paul writes, “I am still not all I should be, but I am bringing all my energies to bear on this one thing: Forgetting the past and looking forward to what lies ahead, I strain to reach the end of the race and receive the prize” (Php 3:13-14 TLB). A decided heart is the result of a made-up mind. It’s what separates winners from the losers. Pour your life into something more than self-interest; commit to a purpose that will outlive you!
“Their eyes were opened and they recognized him.” Lk 24:31 NIV
One day Jesus touched the eyes of a blind man and he exclaimed, “I see men as trees, walking” (Mk 8:24). In other words, “I see something, but it’s not completely clear yet.” So Jesus touched him again, cleared his perceptions, removed his limitations, and set him free to become the man God made him to be. Without a God-given vision you’ll stumble through life blind to who God is and what He can do; blind to who you are and what He can accomplish through you. Thomas Edison “saw” incandescent light before the first electric bulb ever glowed. It’s what sustained him through thousands of failed experiments. Bill Gates “saw” a PC in every office and home, while the so-called experts were busy announcing, “It’ll never happen in our lifetime.” Forty years before Israel set foot in the Promised Land, Moses “saw” it (See Heb 11:27). God can be doing all sorts of things, yet you don’t see them because you’re spiritually blind. Remember the two disciples on the Emmaus Road? It was only after Jesus had walked with them for seven miles and explained the Scriptures to them that we read, “Their eyes were opened and they recognized him.” When you begin to see God at work in your situation, your fear is diminished and your faith is strengthened. How does He reveal Himself? At church? Sometimes. But mostly He opens His Word and our understanding, and we start to see Him in a way we never have before. So today pray, “Open my eyes that I may see” (Ps 119:18 NIV).
“After waiting patiently, Abraham received what was promised.” Heb 6:15 NIV
When you’re praying for something, the last thing you want to hear God say is “wait!” But sometimes He does. And in order to walk with Him you must learn to be patient, because He works according to His schedule and not yours. All your praying and plead- ing won’t accelerate the process, it’ll just frustrate you. Furthermore, if life has indulged your every want and whim, learning to wait on God will be like going through spiritual rehab. When Abraham was seventy-five, God promised to make him “a father of many nations” (Ge17:4 NKJV). But he had to wait twenty-four more years before he “received what was promised.” Waiting isn’t simply something you do in order to get what you want; waiting produces patience, maturity, understanding, and character. What God accomplishes in you while you’re waiting is often more important than the thing you’re waiting for. “You need to persevere so that when you have done the will of God, you will receive what he has promised” (Heb 10:36 NIV). Now, waiting isn’t an excuse for dodging reality, shirking your responsibility, or not doing the right thing. For example, if you’re up to your eyeballs in debt due to overspending, don’t sit around waiting for God to send you a big check. Learn to discipline yourself and adopt sound financial principles like tithing, budgeting, and doing without it until you can pay for it. Above all, waiting means making a decision to trust and obey God when things aren’t going the way you planned. It’s saying, “Lord, I’m counting on You, and I don’t have a backup plan.”
“When he finally came to his senses.” Lk 15:17 NLT
The Prodigal Son’s journey to ruin didn’t happen overnight. It was a slow, steady buildup, like cholesterol in your arteries. He took his father’s blessings for granted and stopped being grateful. No wonder David wrote, “Bless the Lord, O my soul; and all that is within me, bless His holy name! Bless the Lord, O my soul, and forget not all His benefits: who forgives all your iniquities…heals all your diseases…redeems your life from destruction…crowns you with lovingkindness and tender mercies…who satisfies your mouth with good things” (Ps 103:1-5 NKJV). The Prodigal Son was from one of the best families in town, yet he ended up penniless, friendless, eating with pigs, trying to satisfy a legitimate hunger in an illegitimate way. Why do we get involved in extramarital affairs, go on drinking and drug binges, or work ourselves to death and sacrifice our families in the process? Because inside each of us is an emptiness that nothing and no one but God can fill. Jesus said, “When he finally came to his senses, he said to himself…I will go home to my father and say, ‘Father, I have sinned’” (Lk 15:17-18 NLT). If you let Him, God will stop you in the nick of time. He will remind you of who you are and where you belong. You will start seeing the mud you’re wallowing in, the false friends, the empty achievements, the people around you who are no happier than you. If that’s where you are right now, come home. Your Father is waiting to wipe your slate clean. He still loves you. Tell the Devil, “I’ve changed my mind. I’m going home.”
“[He] wasted his substance.” Lk 15:13
The Prodigal Son told his father, “I want it all, now!” To know whether something is good for you or not, you need to understand where the desire for it came from. Loving parents don’t give their children things because they cry for them, they reward them for acting responsibly. They know what’s age-appropriate. And God is a loving parent. We all know good, well-intentioned people whose talents elevated them. Yet they crashed and burned because of some immature, undisciplined area in their life. Please listen to your heavenly Father and don’t leave home until He says you’re ready! The Prodigal “wasted his substance with riotous living.” Note the word “substance.” Satan is after more than your material possessions; he’s after your character, your self-esteem, your staying power, and your life’s purpose. Like the Prodigal Son, you can reach a place where you lose the desire for life itself. It’s possible to bask in the accolades of others and think you’re going places in life, yet be only a few steps from the hog pen. The Bible says, “He…joined him- self to a citizen of that country; and he sent him into his fields to feed swine” (v.15). Note the word “joined.” To gauge where you are spiritually, look at who you’re “joined” to. The company you keep is like a compass that points you in the direction you’re headed. And that compass doesn’t lie. But there’s hope. When the Prodigal Son returned home, his father was waiting for him with open arms. And your heavenly Father is waiting for you too, so come while you still can.