Thanks to pod-casts available on my phone, I enjoy listening to a number of preachers that I would not ordinarily have the privilege of listening to. This became a habit while I was pastoring as a means of being fed myself and also sharpening my own skills. As most habits, though, it is sometimes just that. There are times that the sermon playing is merely a positive alternative to less constructive types of background noise I might otherwise make use of. However, as I was listening recently to a sermon by Charles Swindoll, he made a striking statement that grabbed my full attention with no less force than if someone had slapped me across the face. This is what he said: “A church that has greater memories than dreams will not make a difference…A church that makes a difference is a church that has an ever enlarging willingness to accept whatever challenge God brings.”
His statement struck me as it did because it elegantly summarizes one of the struggles I have had of late with the traditional, fundamental, American church. It saddens (and frustrates) me to see so many of them content to live in the past, attend to their own comforts and have zero impact on their community. Instead of a willingness to accept challenges, they busy themselves avoiding challenges at all costs.
These churches stand as a warning to the rest of us: we must be intentional about making a difference. The fact of the matter is that most of these churches do have great memories. They did have times of effective ministry. They were serving God and their community. This begs the questions: How do we avoid their fate? How do we continue to make a difference in our world?
The general answer is that we must be kingdom oriented. We begin to die spiritually the moment we begin to live for ourselves. Church is not about my comfort or my preference on music or service times. Church (and life in general) is about advancing the kingdom. Paul instructed believers to “set your mind on things above, not on the things that are on the earth (Col 3:2).” Jesus referred to Peter as Satan and called him a stumbling block because he did “not have in mind the concerns of God, but merely human concerns.” If we want to make a difference, we must “seek first the kingdom of God… (Mat 6:33).” Here are some practical thoughts on how we might do this:
- Engage in regular evangelism. Make it a goal to share your faith in some way each week or each day. This keeps you involved so that God always has current opportunities to use you. It also keeps you aware of what is important. If you are faithfully and regularly sharing the gospel, you are less likely to become consumed with yourself.
- Engage in biblical decision making. Use the Bible to determine what to hold onto. We must differentiate between what God says must never change and what we are holding onto out of preference. For example – pastors must always preach Christ and that should never change. However, he might not always preach Christ while wearing a suit and tie. He might do it in jeans and a fedora. That’s cool. If we want to make a difference we have to be willing to let go of traditions and methods that are not mandated by Scripture – even if they used to be effective.
- Engage in the process of change. There will come a time in your life or in the ministry of the church where change is necessary, but it is usually not easy. To be prepared for that time, practice change in smaller and less significant ways. Make change a regular part of your routine. Learn how to present it. Learn how to implement it. Practice the art of change.
- Engage in meeting needs. The church must always be aware of the changing needs of the individuals and community around them. Many of Jesus’ miracles are introduced with this phrase: “He saw…” Jesus helped so many people because he saw the needs around him. A biblical church says, “How can we serve? What need can we meet?” That doesn’t mean that every church can meet every need, but it does mean we should be more concerned with meeting needs than with holding onto our programs at all cost.
These are just some of the practical ways that I believe we can keep a kingdom focus. If you want to make a difference in your world, join me in evaluating your own heart in regard to these issues and then determine to intentionally engage in practices that will direct your attention toward Jesus.
photo credit: <a href=”http://www.flickr.com/photos/22280677@N07/2504254022″>First Congregational Church of Brimfield</a> via <a href=”http://photopin.com”>photopin</a> <a href=”https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nd/2.0/”>(license)</a>