Josh Laxton: Moving from a Country Club to a Commissioned Church, Part 2

Moving from a Country Club to a Commissioned Church, Part 2

True church growth transfers people from the domain of darkness into the glorious light of Christ.

Moving from a Country Club to a Commissioned Church, Part 2

Image: Photo by Mat Botsford on Unsplash

On Thursday, we looked at the first three shifts to experience transformation in our churches. Today, I’ll share the final three.

 

Shift 4: The church must make the shift from swapping members to having the primary growth strategy of going after people who do not yet belong

This seems to be where most churches struggle. According to Rick Richardson’s research, only 40 percent of the churches in America are growing. However, only 10 percent of these churches are experience growth through conversion. That means the other 30 percent of churches that grow are doing so by swapping members. [See his book, You Found Me.]

Don’t misunderstand me here. It’s not like I’m against transferring from one church to another. I realize there are many good reasons to transfer church membership. Other church leaders have written some good articles about this.

What I am suggesting here is for churches to stop relying and [even] celebrating “growth” when the growth has been predominantly through transfer. The reality is, transfer growth is inflated growth. It’s not like transfer growth pushes back darkness. True church growth transfers people from the domain of darkness into the glorious light of Christ.

If we were honest, much transfer growth happens with disgruntled members over tertiary or preferential issues. And rather than sit down to talk about the issue, they leave without notice.

If I had to guess, there are a lot of serial transfer memberships, because if you leave one church because of issues, it is only a matter of time before you leave another church. Why? Because all churches have issues! All churches are made up of imperfect people being perfected into the image of Christ. Therefore, it is only a matter of time before church leaders and churches either make a mistake or do something that doesn’t please or cater to everyone.

When churches make it a priority to go primarily after those who have yet to belong—those who are far from Jesus–they will find the joy and freedom that a new believer brings to congregational life because they tend to focus and feast on the gospel rather than focus and give feedback on what they like and don’t like.

Shift 5: Members need to shift the way they see the church from a transactional organization to a familial relationship

It seems that brand loyalty has largely disappeared in today’s culture. Today consumers hunt for the best deals, the most amazing experiences, and the greatest entertainment. It’s a cut-throat world competing for opinionated consumers.

 

A bad experience, sub-par food, terrible service, or poor-quality can easily influence a customer never to return again. Why? The relationship between customer and institution (or organization) is transactional.

Tim Keller in his book on marriage distinguishes between a contractional (transactional) view of marriage verses a covenant view. In a contractional marriage, we will find it difficult to commit to anything because we will always fear that we are potentially missing out on something better—especially when our current commitments are not meeting our desires and expectations. Keller then remarks, “consumer relationships operate out of a mindset that essentially says, ‘Adjust to me, or I’m out of here’” (The Meaning of Marriage-Study 2).

On the other hand, a covenant view of marriage operates “out of the Biblical mindset that states, ‘I will adjust to you, and I’m not going anywhere.’ In a covenant relationship, my needs are not as important to me as the good of the relationship.” (The Meaning of Marriage-Study 2).

I highlight what Keller says about marriage, because as believers we have been saved by Christ and have entered into a covenant with him. While this covenant with Christ may have a personal nature to it, the covenant that Christ solidified by His death and resurrection is corporate with God’s people—His church. Therefore, the nature of the New Testament covenant is familial.

Joseph Hellerman, in his book When the Church was a Family, stresses the notion that the church should view herself more as a “family.” The Apostle Paul writes in Galatians, “Therefore, as we have opportunity, let us work for the good of all, especially for those who belong to the household of faith” (Gal .6:10).

To understand such truth, Hellerman unpacks how the ancient Near East understood family. He notes that in the New Testament world:

  • The group took priority over the individual.
  • A person’s most important group was his blood family.
  • the closest family bond was not the bond of marriage. It was the bond between siblings. (p. 50, Kindle Edition)

I share all of this because bodies of believers that want to shift from a country club to a commissioned church must start seeing each other as family. Sure, all families have dysfunction—some more serious than others.

However, God didn’t design His family to have contractional or transactional relationships that center around the individual’s needs or desires, but on the covenantal foundation of Jesus’ blood and life that unites [diverse] individuals together as an agape family.

Therefore, rather than walking out at the first sign of trouble or disappointment—only to go down the street to another “club”—brothers and sisters should be able to come together in Christ’s love and grace and work out differences—especially when most differences in churches are tertiary and preferential.

Shift 6: Church leadership will need to shift from being customer service representatives to becoming shepherds that defend the essence of the church

Complaints (or complainers) aren’t new to God-appointed leaders. In fact, Moses knew them all too well. However, how leaders engage and deal with complainers can either propel or prohibit the mission of God through His people.

In our culture, business and organizations are customer-centric, which means they strive to create a positive experience for the customer by what they offer and how they offer it—just like a country club. And if a customer has a bad experience, good consumer-centered businesses go into damage control mode trying to diffuse the negativity, anger, or hostility of the customer.

One of the problems today in the American church is that many want church done their way, as if church is a Burger King. And what typically happens is that the complaints of members fall onto the ears of church leaders who mean well but want everyone to be happy and content—they want calm and peace.

As a result, there is vision drift from the mission of God because it has been thwarted by the voices of the vocal minority. Peace at the cost of God’s mission isn’t peace, but disobedience. When leaders try and make everyone in church a winner, God becomes the loser.

I want to tread carefully here, so not to make people think I don’t care about church members. I’m a shepherd at heart and by call. I love the church. However, churches are to be sheep-focused, mission-oriented, and Christ-centered.

As a result, the goal of church leaders isn’t to make church people happy, it is to drive them to be more conformed into Christ’s image. And the more conformed one is in the image of Jesus, the more postured for and towards the world they will be.

This doesn’t mean church leaders (and churches) don’t make mistakes or mishandle situations that inflame emotions or tensions. It’s not to dismiss how many church leaders fail to communicate effectively in making decisions—which is something that stirs up negative emotions.

 

The point is that church leaders who serve more as customer service representatives do the church (and thus the members) a disservice in confusing them as to the essence of the church. They are there to mobilize God’s people to be on mission as they are conformed more into the image of Jesus, not to make sure they have an awesome religious experience.

The most loving (and missional) thing church leaders can do with complainers and naysayers is to help them see the biblical vision of a God-breathed commissioned church compared to a personal preferred vision of a self-absorbed country club church.

In closing, I pray that the church in the West would be a missional vehicle that mobilizes believers to reflect the glory of God by living selfless lives postured for and towards the world as they reflect the already but not yet kingdom.

When churches do this, they live as salt and light in a world that is both in decay and darkness. To enact this missional vision will require many American churches to make the shift from a country club to a commissioned church mindset.

Josh Laxton currently serves as the Assistant Director of the Billy Graham Center, Lausanne North American Coordinator at Wheaton College, and a co-host of the podcast Living in the Land of Oz. He has a Ph.D. in North American Missiology from Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary.

Josh Laxton- Moving from a Country Club to a Commissioned Church, Part 1

This is a great article on transforming churches from a country club mentality to a true missional expression of the Body of Christ,

Moving from a Country Club to a Commissioned Church, Part 1

Paul knew that if people became the central focus of the church, the church would be conformed into the image of people not the image of Christ.

Moving from a Country Club to a Commissioned Church, Part 1

Image: Photo by Joshua Eckstein on Unsplash

Recently, I had a two-part series (see Part 1 here and Part 2 here) describing features of a church being more like a country club. The sober reality is many churches fit the bill when it comes to embodying characteristics of a country club. However, very few pastors, leaders, or members want to admit it.

 
 

Ed Stetzer on Vimeo

I get why it’s hard to admit that your church has more in common with a country club down the street than the kind of church Christ birthed. Maybe we think it reflects poorly on our leadership. Maybe we don’t want to admit that what we value with our lips, we don’t value with our lives—like evangelism. Maybe it would be an indictment against us as people who claim to live by “the book,” only to find that we are dying by our governing by-laws.

While the previous posts were more diagnostic, I want these two posts to be more prescriptive and restorative. Why? Because there is hope for churches that have more in common with country clubs than the kind of church Christ birthed.

Country club churches can become once again Christ’s commissioned church. However, to experience this transformation, churches—their leaders and members—will have to make, at the very least, the following six shifts.

Shift 1: The church must make the shift from pleasing people to pleasing God.

We live in a consumeristic culture, where people are accustomed to playing the role of a customer. As a result, they are conditioned to see every organization revolving around their needs. However, the church was not birthed to cater to, nor please, people; the church was birthed to advance the mission of God.

Paul puts it this way to the churches in Galatia, “For am I now trying to persuade people or God? Or am I striving to please people? If I were still trying to please people, I would not be a servant of Christ” (Gal. 1:10).

Paul’s not saying that we aren’t to serve people. He is saying that ultimately our call and goal is to serve and thus please Christ. Paul knew that if people became the central focus of the church, the church would be conformed into the image of people not the image of Christ.

Which is why Paul warned Timothy about how people, in the last days, will be “lovers of self, lovers of money, boastful, proud, demeaning, disobedient to parents, ungrateful, unholy, unloving, irreconcilable, slanderers, without self-control, brutal, without love for what is good, traitors, reckless, conceited, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God…” (2 Tim .3:1–4).

 

Could you imagine what would happen to a church if such people had their way? Paul did. He knew there would come a time when people would “not tolerate sound doctrine, but according to their own desires, [would] multiply teachers for themselves because they [want] to hear what they want to hear” (2 Tim. 4:3).

It would bring great joy to my heart if church members were more concerned about what made God happy rather than voice complaints about what didn’t make them happy.

To make this shift from pleasing people to pleasing God will require great humility and sacrifice. However, in the end, it will prove well worth it since God never promised to remove lamp stands that displayed His glory.

Shift 2: Members need to make the shift from seeing their tithes as membership dues to mission fuel

I cannot tell you how many times I ran into members over the years that saw their tithes and offerings as membership dues they believed entitled them to power and sway in the church.

Years ago, in one of the church’s I pastored, we were talking about selling a baby grand piano and going with an electronic keyboard that would give us more versatility and more room on the stage. But I remember this one member got so upset given that she helped pay for that piano years earlier. As a result, she felt entitled for the church to keep the piano—and to make sure of that she began forming a group that would support her endeavor.

I’ve also experienced many occasions where members withheld their tithes because they didn’t like the changes happening in the church. In other words, they boycotted the church through the withholding of their tithes and offerings—something a country club member would do.

While I am all for being wise stewards of people’s money, having accountability for using the financial resources of the church, and leading in a trustworthy manner, members must realize that their money isn’t financial dues that entitle them to ecclesial power.

They don’t give in order to have more voice, more ownership, or more sway in the church. They give because God gave first. They give because they are never more like Jesus than when they give. They give because God uses their stewardship to advance His mission through His church.

Money should never be used as a weapon to wield or a tool to grab power in Christ’s church; money should always be used and seen as a tool to advance the mission of God. Commissioned churches understand this.

Shift 3: Members need to make the shift from being served to serving

In a country club, members pay for a service whereby they seek to be served rather than serve. However, in a commissioned church, members emulate their King and Savior who both uttered and exemplified the following phrase, “For the Son of Man came not to be serve but to serve and give his life a ransom for many” (Mark 10:45.

Let me illustrate this shift. If you’re a pastor, you know that one of the most difficult areas to recruit volunteers is in the _______________? Children’s ministry. If you’re a pastor, you also know that one of the most important areas for young families today when choosing and attending a church is? Bingo… Children’s ministry.

This area becomes a great litmus test for whether a church can make the shift from country club to commissioned church. For some reason people want to express that God hasn’t called them into children’s ministry.

But I don’t buy it, especially those adults with children. I tell adults with children that God has called them into children’s ministry. You know how I know? Because God gave them kids. And if God gave them kids, then He has called them into children’s ministry.

Another example of this shift would be to stop seeing pastors (and church staff) as hired hands who work for the church and start seeing them as servant leaders who mobilize the church to do the work of ministry (Eph. 4:12).

I tell believers that there are three areas every member should serve the church. First, they should serve in areas of necessity. Areas of necessity could be the children’s, youth, or greeter ministry. Areas of nurturing are the small group areas where care, concern, and support are expressed towards one another. And then natural areas are those areas where people exercise their specific gifts and skill set to build up the church.

In short, commissioned churches are filled with members ready and eager to serve rather than waiting to be served.

Tomorrow, I’ll share the last three shifts that need to take place to transition a country club church to a commissioned church.

Josh Laxton currently serves as the Assistant Director of the Billy Graham Center, Lausanne North American Coordinator at Wheaton College, and a co-host of the podcast Living in the Land of Oz. He has a Ph.D. in North American Missiology from Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary.

Lent- A Season For Finding Ourselves Again

Yesterday was Ash Wednesday, the start of the season of Lent in the church year.

Lent is a time of preparation of our souls for the awesome events of Good Friday and Easter Sunday. It lasts 40 days, excluding Sundays, and has traditionally been marked by fasting or giving up of some luxury or other.

Lent is one of those ancient customs, going back to the early church period. In recent times it has been largely associated with the Catholic Church, which is a bit sad. Why should the Catholics have all the fun?

Lent is a great time to reorient our lives and our habits back towards God. Instead of seeing it as a time for “giving up” our little luxuries we should see it as a time of allowing God to bend us back to His direction.

Rather than “giving up” ice cream for Lent, it’s more helpful to ask ourselves, “What is it that keeps me distant from God?” Or perhaps, “What should I be doing that would draw me closer to God?”

The brilliance of Lent is that it goes for 40 days (plus Sundays). To establish a new habit generally takes up to 30 days. So setting up new life patterns that draw us closer to God during Lent reprograms our souls to keep the same pattern going all year.

Things you might “give up” during Lent: wasting time on the internet, including social media; road rage; obsessing about money, perhaps giving more to charity; crash diets; feeling bad about your performance as a christian.

Things you might “take up” in Lent to draw closer to God: help a neighbour with gardening; make a space in your routine for daily Bible reading; offer to lead your cell group; help a single mother with child minding; pray blessing for that annoying person.

If we do Lent right every year we can become super heroes of faith, bending our lifestyle away from the world and towards God.

Start today and let this next few weeks be a time of growing in Christ.

The miracle crop that saved our farm

From “Eternity” comes this good news story about God’s provision in the drought.

Jarrod Amery with four of his six kidsJarrod Amery with four of his six kidsImage supplied

The miracle crop that saved our farm

How this faithful farmer survived the drought

It’s nine months since Eternity caught up with 37-year-old farmer from Central West NSW, Jarrod Amery. At the time, Amery was simply blown away by the “miraculous” canola crop he had planted just weeks before – after a dream that he believed to be from God.

It was a big leap of faith. In the dream, Amery was standing in the midst of lush, green canola in a paddock on his 6500-hectare farm outside Forbes. Many drought-stricken locals would simply have written off the dream as wishful thinking; canola crops were few and far between, and those that did exist were struggling. Yet Amery, convicted by his desire to be a “supernatural farmer”, went and purchased $36,000 of canola seed. Then he and his wife Emma sowed it into the dry, thirsty earth and waited on God.

“I remember praying about the crop and saying, ‘God, we’ve done all we can do, and we’re trusting you.” – Jarrod Amery

It was a leap of faith that paid off. “The crop grew and grew and it flourished better than any other crops we planted,” says Amery. “It was the best crop in the area by a mile …

“Every Sunday after church, Emma and I and our six children would intentionally drive past that crop, even though it took longer to get home, and we’d thank God for the crop. I remember one Sunday in early June, we got out of the car and I said to Emma ‘this crop has grown to a stage where it’s exactly like I saw in my dream’, and I was like, this is amazing! This is a dream in reality.”

But when this “supernatural” crop was looking its best, the rain dried up during the middle of 2019.

“Pretty much from the first of July onwards, the rain stopped,” says Amery about a common problem across drought-affected areas of Australia.

“From July 1 to the end of January 2020, we had 46 millilitres, which is virtually nothing. Last year was the driest year we’ve ever recorded.

“As the crop went on, it got thirstier and thirstier. It still looked like one of the best crops in the area, but over time it started to wilt.”

Amery began to question God, saying: “God, I thought that this dream was going to have a happy ending.”

“I remember praying about the crop and saying, ‘God, we’ve done all we can do, and we’re trusting you that whatever happens, happens because you’ve got a good plan going on.”The Amerys drought-stricken property

The Amerys’ propertyImage supplied

While other canola crops on the Amery farm withered up and died, the miracle crop continued to grow, although “not at a great rate”.

“We made a decision that we’re going to put faith in God and that the dream was from God,” Amery reflects.

“We made a choice near the end of March [2019] that we were going to sow [canola seed]. So we just started sowing 24 hours a day. We got 80 per cent of the paddock sown, but the other 20 per cent we didn’t quite get sown because it started to rain.

“We came back and sowed that last 20 per cent seven days later when the paddock dried out. That part of the paddock, that we sowed after the rain, withered up and died – it was un-harvestable.

“If we hadn’t have taken a step of faith … then we wouldn’t have had any crop at all.” – Jarrod Amery

“So if we hadn’t have taken a step of faith and started to sow the crop when God gave us the dream to sow it into dry soil, then we wouldn’t have had any crop at all.”

“That was a miracle in itself!” laughs Amery incredulously.

When the Amery family eventually cut the canola crop and sold it for hay (to be used as animal feed), they “got heaps and heaps and heaps of hay bales. More than anyone else in the district.”

“These hay bales were in great demand. Our hay was being sold from Tamworth to Guyra to Condobolin and even up near the Queensland border. It was going all over the place.

“That canola was approximately 10 per cent of our land mass, but provided us with around 80 per cent of our income in 2019.”Bales of hay

“We had heaps and heaps and heaps of hay bales. More than anyone else in the district,” says Jarrod Amery.Image supplied

While the farm is still running at a loss, Amery says: “If we hadn’t done what God had shown us in the dream, we wouldn’t have had any income whatsoever from that paddock. That would have probably resulted in Emma and I not being able to carry on with our agricultural business.”

“That small thing we did by just sowing in faith has enabled Emma and I to continue on during this drought, which has been ever so hard, and to come out the other side and continue to live the dream of being farmers.”

The next leap of faith

“We’re off to a far, far better start this year than last year,” says the ever-positive Amery. During the past week, they’ve received 115 millilitres of rain – that’s 80 per cent of the entire rainfall at the property last year.

“That water will stay in the ground until we want to plant our crops. So it’s money in the bank pretty much.”

Amery believes that the drought is starting to break, although he qualifies: “but I don’t shout it from the hilltops because some of the farmers haven’t got that rain yet.”

For farmers in his local area, the recent rain has been a “massive morale booster” and “a game changer”.Jarrod Amery

Jarrod AmeryImage supplied

Reflecting on the lessons he’s learned during this drought, Amery says: “It has been really hard at times and very challenging, but I know that God is so faithful and he’s so good. And I also know that I’ve learnt the most important lessons in life when life’s been most challenging.

“I have not wanted to waste such a difficult time by sitting around twiddling my thumbs, waiting for my environment to improve. I’ve been really consciously seeking out what can I do better on my farm; God, what do you want to show me about my heart, what skills do you what to teach me, what do you want to show me to help me to be a better farmer, a better business person, a better family man, a better community man at this particular time?”

While he doesn’t want to minimise the impact of the drought, Amery goes as far as to say that the drought is actually one of the best things that’s happened to him as a farmer.

“I reckon that this drought could be one of the greatest opportunities that I’ll have in my career.” – Jarrod Amery

“I’ve been thinking about this. The drought for some people seems like a waste of time, a waste of effort and a waste of money. But I reckon that this drought could be one of the greatest opportunities that I’ll have in my career.

“The number of things that I’ve learnt – that people have taught me, I’ve taught myself or God’s shown me – turns you into a bigger, better and wiser person.”

Amery says he’s “only on the start of this journey” of faithful living. He is currently waiting on God to direct his decisions about stock purchasing and crop planting in the next month or so.

“I’m determined not to do what I’ve always done because if I do that, I’ll get what I’ve always gotten,” he explains.

In summing up, Amery adds: “The crux of it is if you believe that God’s speaking to you, you’re better off giving it a go rather than waiting and waiting to see if it was from God.”

“Don’t just sit around, step out in faith and ask God ‘Was this really from you?’”

Ethiopia’s Evangelical Prime Minister Wins Nobel Peace Prize

From Christianity Today

Ethiopia’s Evangelical Prime Minister Wins Nobel Peace Prize

Image: Francisco Seco / AP

Less than two years since taking office, Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed has helped Ethiopia achieve the kind of peace and reconciliation once deemed impossible, including resolving a border conflict with its East African neighbour Eritrea.

Today, his efforts earned him the 2019 Nobel Peace Prize.

Though some Ethiopians have questioned whether the recognition has come too soon, the Nobel Committee stated, “… even if much work remains, Abiy Ahmed has initiated important reforms that give many citizens hope for a better life and a brighter future.”

At 43 years old, Ahmed is Africa’s youngest leader. He made quick and deliberate efforts toward reform when he took office in April 2018.

Ahmed signed a peace accord with President Isaias Afwerki of Eritrea last year, after decades of political stalemate and two years of violence that cost 80,000 lives along the border. The two countries have grown increasingly open to one another, with resumed air travel and telecommunications, the New York Times reported.

The prize announcement commended his leadership, saying:

He spent his first 100 days as Prime Minister lifting the country’s state of emergency, granting amnesty to thousands of political prisoners, discontinuing media censorship, legalizing outlawed opposition groups, dismissing military and civilian leaders who were suspected of corruption, and significantly increasing the influence of women in Ethiopian political and community life. He has also pledged to strengthen democracy by holding free and fair elections.

As CT previously reported, Ahmed also helped reconcile two branches of the Ethiopian Orthodox Church, which split for political reasons in 1991. Orthodox represent the largest religious group in the country (around 40% of the population, compared to 19% Protestant and 34% Muslim).

He fostered reconciliation between Muslims and Christians in his hometown of Beshasha while a member of parliament and immediately began meeting with Abune Mathias, the Patriarch of the Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahedo Church as prime minister, offering his support to help end the schism. Negotiations had been cautiously ongoing for years, but perceptions of government opposition muted the effort, reported OPC News.

The son of a Muslim father and Orthodox mother, Ahmed is a Protestant Pentecostal, or “Pentay,” like many Ethiopian politicians.

His faith is seen as a driving factor in his push for peace. “There is something of the revivalist preacher in the way he evangelizes for his vision,” BBC News noted. “He has the energy, the passion, and the certainty.”

According to the Catholic Herald, Pentecostal beliefs correspond with the sense of hope and ambition in politics. “The beguiling feature of Pentecostalism is the idea that nothing is impossible,” said Andrew DeCort, director of the Institute for Christianity and the Common Good,

A member of the Full Gospel Believers’ Church, Ahmed told followers after taking office, “We have a country that is endowed with great bounty and wealth, but is starving for love.”

After today’s announcement, the prime minister tweeted, “I am humbled by the decision of the Norwegian Nobel Committee. My deepest gratitude to all committed and working for peace. This award is for Ethiopia and the African continent. We shall prosper in peace!”

Ahmed is the 24th Nobel Peace Prize recipient from Africa; last year, the award went in part to Denis Mukwege, a Christian doctor dedicated to healing rape victims in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC).