The Problem with Guilt-Free Church

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I saw a billboard the other day advertising a church in the community. In huge letters, it said: “Guilt-Free, Grace-Full!” Having grown up in a spiritual atmosphere where guilt was used like a hammer against those trying to make spiritual progress, I find myself paying attention when I see a sign like that. I realize that many churches use guilt to control people and to get the kind of response they need in order to stay in operation. No one wants to be put on a guilt trip and most people will no longer tolerate that kind of treatment from church leaders.

But there is a problem with a guilt-free church: We are all guilty.

Our culture loves to deflect blame. We love to point at someone else: our parents, the government, our spouse – anyone but me! There is a significant move within the evangelical community to remove the sense of guilt from the lives of people. We don’t want anyone to feel badly about themselves. This is basically because so many people reject personal responsibility. But we ARE responsible. We have all sinned (Romans 3:23).

Here are some things to consider:

1. A feeling of “guilt” is required in order to be forgiven.

By guilt, I do not mean that we should beat ourselves up or feel as though we are hopeless. One of the definitions for guilt is: “a feeling of responsibility or remorse for some offense, crime, wrong, etc.” (dictionary.com) We must come to terms with our sin. This “guilt” can be defined as godly sorrow. An old fashioned church word for this is “conviction”.  II Corinthians 7:10 says, “For godly sorrow produces repentance leading to salvation, not to be regretted; but the sorrow of the world produces death.” (NKJV)  Worldly sorrow is the destructive kind of guilt – godly sorrow produces repentance, which leads to salvation. We must first be aware that we are sinners; then we can be saved.

2. If there is no guilt, there can be no grace.

Back in the 80’s one of the more popular Bible verses I heard was “There is therefore now no condemnation…” (Romans 8:1) This verse was used to cover people who desired to do whatever they wanted, but did not want any of the associated guilt. The problem was, many people forgot the rest of the verse…”for those who are in Christ”. Once Christ forgives sin, there is no guilt; but until he does, we are guilty!  As much as some church leaders would like to be “all grace all the time”, be aware that God’s grace only covers those who confess their sins to Him. According to Scripture, not everyone is going to heaven, only those whose sins are forgiven. Pastors cannot let people off the hook for their sins. Churches who do this may enjoy growth for a season but the end results will be empty lives.

3. People deserve all of the truth.

Just because a dessert says it is “guilt free” that does not mean there are no calories. We can tell people that they will only feel good about themselves if they come to our church. But when the Word of God is preached and the Spirit of God is involved, conviction will take place. This is painful; people avoid it. But we should never remove the opportunity to for people to repent.

4. Don’t force guilt or grace.

These are properties of God; allow Him to do His work in the lives of people. Churches and pastors should preach the truth in love. They should not condemn or judge. Neither should they exonerate or liberate. This is the work of God. The church is only a conduit through which God works.

Think it over. The next time you feel guilty about something, don’t dismiss it as a guilt trip. Don’t find a preacher who will tell you how awesome you are. Pray and ask God to reveal any wicked way within you, and if He shows you something, repent and accept His free gift of grace!

Psalms 139:23-24 “Search me, God, and know my heart;
test me and know my anxious thoughts.
24 See if there is any offensive way in me,
and lead me in the way everlasting.”

People-Growing (for church leaders)

People GrowingGod has called us into the most wonderful work in the world! Much of what we do can be compared to what a farmer does. He grows crops; we grow people. He reaps a harvest of grain or vegetables; we reap a crop of souls.

Like farmers, pastors must know the purpose of their work and we must be willing to do whatever it takes to produce disciples. Fulfilling the Great Commission (Matthew 28:19-20) is not an option for today’s church leader!

In order for us to have success as “people growers”, we must:

Be intentional. Discipleship and spiritual growth among your church members does not “just happen”. If there is not a specific plan, our church will not grow. Conducting church services is not enough. We must engage the people in an intentional and consistent plan of personal spiritual growth. There are many simple plans available; develop one or find one and get your church involved. What is your plan?

In order for us to have success as “people growers”, we must:

Be willing to measure our success. Numbers aren’t everything but they do measure our progress. Attendance = real lives. If we are not reaching more people now than we were a few years ago, it is time for an adjustment. Refusal to deal with the bottom line (disciples being made) will lead to failure in the ministry. Go ahead and answer the question, “what do our numbers say about our discipleship process?” Are adjustments necessary? If so, what adjustments?

In order for us to have success as “people growers”, we must:

Be skilled. The Bible instructs us to study to make ourselves approved unto God ((II Timothy 2:15). If we expect the people we lead to grow, we must also grow. I recommend that each of us read various authors on the topic of spiritual growth. We need to feed ourselves outside of the church services we lead. We must worship and pray and fast. It may also be beneficial to learn from others – consider a coach or mentor who can help to develop you as a leader. If we grow as leaders, those we lead will also grow.  What is your personal growth plan?

In order for us to have success as “people growers”, we must:

Be diligent. James 5:7 says, “See how the farmer waits for the land to yield its valuable crop, patiently waiting for the autumn and spring rains.” We cannot be in a hurry to grow people. It talks a lot of plowing and planting and watering and fertilizing. There are no shortcuts! But we cannot be satisfied if we have had no harvest for years. God works through seasons – when is our season to harvest people? It must be soon!

In order for us to have success as “people growers”, we must:

Be aware of our accountability. We should be accountable to one another. We should be in cooperative relationships with those in our faith family. But we WILL give an account to the Lord for our productivity or lack thereof in the field of souls. The field belongs to God. The people are His. The Ministry is His. We don’t want to stand before Him empty handed. We certainly desire to stand before Him one day and hear Him say, “Well done good and faithful servant”! (Matthew 25:21).

Jealous Husbands Don’t Scare Me

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There is one reason why I am not concerned about a jealous husband coming after me: I have not been doing things that I shouldn’t be doing. I have not cheated with someone else’s wife nor have I cheated on my wife.  Please don’t take this as bragging and I know better than to get prideful; but there is a deep sense of comfort that comes from knowing that my conscience is clear.  I remember hearing my pastor talk about this topic when I was a kid and I didn’t really understand. He spoke of the freedom of walking down the street with confidence, knowing that no one was gunning for him because he’d been messing around – because he HADN’T been messing around! I understand now and I treasure the fact that God has taught me the value of relationship integrity.

I know too many guys who have been guilty of adultery and I also know many who have been victimized by it. While Hollywood normalizes these activities, the results in real life are always devastating; lives are being destroyed.

Let’s pray for men in general and husbands specifically. Pray for purity and fidelity among us. Pray that we older guys can model for younger guys what it means to be a man of purity. Pray that young men in America will not believe the lies being pushed by our culture that say manhood is determined by sexual activity. Pray for fewer reasons for crimes of passion. Let’s ask God for forgiveness of our sins and that He will help us to overcome our temptations and make us more like Christ.

I Corinthians 16:13 in various translations…

KJV: Watch ye, stand fast in the faith, quit you like men, be strong.

MSG: Keep your eyes open, hold tight to your convictions, give it all you’ve got, be resolute.

Douay-Rhelms: Watch ye, stand fast in the faith, do manfully, and be strengthened. (I love that: “do manfully”!)

Whitter: Keep your guard up, dig deep in Christ, don’t be a weakling, win the war!

I Found Myself Numb

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I heard myself saying the right things but I felt myself feeling nothing. As we were at the bedside of a yet another dying person, I was disturbed, not at the idea of death or even the mourning of a family but that I had grown so accustomed to the scene. This was after many years of pastoring. Too many funerals, too many emergency room visits, too many death-bed experiences. I had become the pale-faced, cold-blooded undertaker we’ve all seen on old westerns – except that I was supposed to be a pastor. It wasn’t that I didn’t care; I really did and was hurting for the family. It was simply a matter of overexposure and lack dealing with grief properly.

I didn’t get numb overnight. Unfortunately, I’ve had more than my share of morbid experiences: Identifying bodies burned in a house fire; gruesome deaths of children; and having to do things in hospitals that nurses didn’t want to do and family members couldn’t bring themselves to do. The breaking point seemed to be the slow and agonizing death of a young friend. I stood helplessly by his side for months and watched as his wife and young son let him go. I helped the undertaker load his lifeless body on the gurney.

I had allowed a shell to build up around my heart. For years, while conducting funerals, I have heard remarks like, “I don’t know how you held it together.” But this was different – this wasn’t composure.

I got my wake up call before it was too late. When I realized I wasn’t experiencing the proper response to death, I knew something had to change. I have since made necessary adjustments. These changes are too personal to share but they were precise and effective.

So how does one in my profession avoid becoming cold-blooded? My few suggestions would be:

Allow yourself to grieve (possibly in private because your breaking down in public could cause a tidal-wave response).

Be sure to debrief after especially difficult experiences.

Seek counsel when the load is heavy. Even those in the helps industries need help.

Pray that God will keep your heart tender. See Ezekiel 36:26.

I don’t regret my life work. In fact, I treasure it and am honored to be called by God to do this work. But I would like to avoid this pitfall in the future and help others to also avoid it.

Don’t let yourself become numb.

Don’t Blame Me, I’m Just the Leader

don't shoot me

Hey leaders, when something goes down within your organization, don’t let people blame you.

Step up and blame yourself!

That’s right. Leaders don’t run from blame and they certainly don’t blame other people. Leaders accept the responsibility for the need for change and they lead it! That’s what leaders do.

Leadership guru John Maxwell says, “Everything rises and falls on leadership.”  There have been times in my career that I have hated that adage. When things are going poorly and the team is not producing, I want to point at someone else and take the pressure off of myself. But it’s my job to lead the team into success. With certain qualifiers, as goes the leader, so goes the team. There will be times when someone else messes up. As the leader, we must be strong enough to shoulder the blame and do what it takes to correct the direction.

I heard a ministries consultant take another angle: If you’ve been at your current appointment for at least 3 years, you own every problem. You can no longer place the blame on your predecessor.  You’ve been there long enough to address it. As the current leader, it’s your duty to deal with it and fix it. We can’t exonerate ourselves from it or abdicate our responsibility.

Let’s use Jesus as our example:

In John 18:10, Simon Peter cut off the ear of Malchus. Jesus rebuked Simon and healed the guy’s ear! He explained that His kingdom was not one of violence.

In Matthew 17:24-27 Peter commits Jesus to paying taxes without consulting Jesus. Again, Jesus fixes the problem.

In Mark 9:14-29, Jesus’ disciples failed to remove a demon spirit from a boy. Jesus took care of the issue and set the boy free.

Notice something – not only did Jesus accept responsibility and fix the problems, He also showed His disciples how to prevent the problems from being repeated. He utilized them in the solution, training them for the future.

I love that! Real leaders are willing to meet a challenge head-on. They do whatever it takes to correct the crisis. They utilize the problem to train their team. And as a result, the team grows in its abilities.

So once again, when something breaks in the organization, don’t find someone else to blame. Just lead the change. That’s what leaders do.

the new “no”

What do you think of this statement? “No response is the new ‘no’.” Here is what I mean: When you ask someone for something or request someone to get involved in a particular thing and you hear nothing back from them…you can assume that the answer is “no.” Apparently it is no longer necessary to actually say “no”. Saying nothing at all will suffice.

Our church staff experiences this frequently. My daughter, Jessica is a missionary and has to search for churches in which to raise support. From what she tells me, it is very common to receive no response at all from Pastors. Voicemails and emails remain unanswered most of the time.

I know I have been guilty of this. I get a message from a salesman or a band or an itinerate preacher who wants to be invited to come to our church. It is always uncomfortable to make that return call. I’d rather not, but I try. Putting myself on the other end of that call, I would rather hear a “no” than to be left hanging.

I just wanted to post this as an encouragement to leaders. People deserve to be treated with respect. It doesn’t feel good to be on the receiving end of a “no” response, but it sure beats being left hanging.  We realize it is difficult to do. But go ahead and respond – with a “no” (assuming your answer is not “yes”).  You will feel better and the person you are responding to will feel better.  And then they can move on to the next person they need to ask.