Archive for April, 2017

Last night, our pastor challenged us to learn to live wisely, to make the most out of every opportunity.

Devote yourselves to prayer with an alert mind and a thankful heart” (Colossians 4:2).

This morning, during the church service, I met my first opportunity since receiving the challenge.  Strange isn’t it? That sometimes our greatest opportunity to serve isn’t sitting in a chair at church absorbing the teachable moments of a sermon, or even, to be beside our brothers and sisters in a state of worship…

I have called you into relationship with me and to draw others into relationship with me, says the Lord.

My first opportunity? To calm a sister’s anxiety as she and her husband depart from our church, move to another state, and begin their search for a new church to claim home.

I never realized how clear of a process I have in searching out and claiming ‘this is right’ at a church–developed through my traveled friendships, years, states, and countries.

The framework.  Since the first week of dating, Stephen and I have used a triangle as our framework for our relationship and for everything that flows into, through, and out of our relationship.  The inner triangle symbolizes submit, surrender, together, and the outer triangle symbolizes the Trinity–Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.  In every decision we make, we check ourselves and one another:

  • Are we submitted to one another?
  • Are we submitted to Christ?
  • Are we surrendering our own will to the will of God?
  • Are we acting in the best interest of our togetherness?

Each of which requires us to die to self, believe that what God has for us is far better than what we could claim for ourselves, and lean into what He has together. From there, we are then able to elaborate in our discussion:

  • Are we favoring a Person, attribute, or characteristic of God and neglecting the whole being of God?
    • For instance, Stephen experiences Christ as His Teacher and example most.  Whereas, I experience God’s presence through the Holy Spirit most.  Our Spiritual giftings even support the development in us by studying Christ Jesus and by sitting with the Spirit of God.  But in making decisions, in pursuing ministry of any sort, we must be mindful of the growth we will pursue in honoring who God is in all 3 Persons and in what He does through the people around us?

Once the framework is set for making decisions, the discussion should be relevant to what honors God and relationship with Jesus and other, rather than meeting our own preferences.

We hear, or at least I’ve heard, a lot about the dangers of preferences in selecting churches.  This worry is twofold.  On one hand, God designed each of the 7 billion people walking on this earth with unique characteristics and desires.  We have God-given, God-honoring desires.  The second part is that our desires can be self-fulfilling desires in which we seek to act out our own will, not the will of God.

“For God is working in you, giving you the desire and the power to do what pleases him” (Philippians 2:13).

If we truly are surrendering what is in our interest and pursuing what is the will of God, AND we are truly submitting to Christ and our spouse, AND we are pursuing a common goal together, preferences should exist no more.  The desires relating to preaching, worship, fellowship, and all aspects of ‘church’ end up being about honoring God.  For different individuals and different couples, the answer to their search will be different.

Why? God has created and called each of us in unique ways to unique places, people, and opportunities.

Keeping the framework in mind and in remaining prayerful, consider these next steps…

  1. Reach out to pastors and church associations that have challenged you, grown you, and minister well to their direct and global communities.  Be bold enough to ask for help.  Allow others to guide your journey.
  2. Do the research.  Online we have access to sermons, connect opportunities, ministries and mission opportunities, missions and beliefs of the church.  Through your research, narrow down the list of possibilities to 5 churches.
  3. Listen, study, and pray. Allow the ministries to minister to you.  Begin to really recognize is this a church, a leader, a ministry that seems emotionally healthy or unhealthy?
    • Notice–in the sermon archive–how many church leaders preach throughout the year.  Is it the same man every week? If so, does he take a sabbatical and allow other leaders to rise up in shepherding and teaching the congregation?
      • Burnout is dangerous for leaders, the church who follow, and the community they minister to
    • Is Truth being preached?
      • We have capital T Truth and lower t truth.   Theology is the study of God.  God does not change; He remains the same.  Theology continues to take shape with numerous perspectives, helping us understand who God is in the vastness of His expression.  Theology should bring us to our knees in awe of who He is, not be a blade to dismember our brothers seeking after knowledge, awareness, and experience of God’s relation to them. We must be careful to enter a church examining the presentation and application of God’s Word by what is True rather than man’s opinion of truth.
      • The Gospel message–capital T Truth–should always be clear and preached often. If you are alarmed by how a church speaks about salvation matters, it probably isn’t the right church for you to grow or minister, but if the preacher simply has different opinions about what is not explicitly said in Scripture, there is room for compromise and discernment within the congregation.
      • Is the pastor speaking of his own accord or from God’s Word?  Are small groups a time of gossip, catching up, or is there also a deep reverence for growing in understanding and application of God’s Word?
    • Pray. Pray. And pray together.  Narrow your search to three.
  4. Attend.  I have a biased toward churches which utilize spiritual gift inventories in their Next Step meetings so that each member serving the congregation is in a position to strengthen the Body.  Again, if each of the 7 billion people on earth is unique, we have unique distributions of who God is and His abilities in each of us.  Still, it remains a bias.  The truth, and the areas to consider in your initial visiting a church are as follows…
    • How does the body function as a whole? 
      • Spiritual gifts. The Spirit gives the ability to give wise advice; to another, the same Spirit gives a message of special knowledge.  The same Spirit gives great faith to another, and to someone else the one Spirit gives the gift of healing.  He gives one person the power to perform miracles, and another the ability to prophesy. He gives someone else the ability to discern whether a message is from the Spirit of God or from another spirit. Still another person is given the ability to speak in unknown languages, while another is given the ability to interpret what is being said. It is the one and only Spirit who distributes all these gifts. He alone decides which gift each person should have…But our bodies have many parts, and God has put each part just where he wants it” (1 Corinthians 12:7-11,18).
        • We have no need for a prophet to serve in a capacity where we would benefit most from someone whom the Spirit gifted the ability to give wise advice; likewise, we would not want to limit our church body from the urgent truths the prophet has been gifted to share.
        • Closer to home, it would seem as though my giftings of faith and intercession would provide the confidence of faith to pray for the supernatural to occur before my eyes when I pray, nonetheless, I do not have the gifting of miracles.  Others in my church serve us better in praying with belief in supernatural occurrences amidst our body.
        • Administrators are gifted with the ability to see needs and find resources to meet the needs.  Are they functioning to keep the church leaders from doing too much?
        • Are there intercessors praying that God would be revealed through the pastor’s message, that His healing would be made known in worship, and in fellowship, are His children delighting amidst God and His family?
        • Are there apostles and wise counsel overseeing the pastor (and other pastors)–is he held accountable to other church leaders?
        • Are their faithful givers in the church empowering ministry through their offerings?
        • There are twenty-five or so spiritual giftings divided into four categories-sign, communication, leadership, and practical– are they utilized in the functioning of the church body?
      • Family.
        • God calls us children. See how very much our Father loves us, for he calls us his children, and that is what we are! (1 John 3:1)
        • And because we are his children, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, prompting us to call out, “Abba, Father” (Galatians 4:6).
        • My dear brothers and sister (James 5:7,10,12,19)
        • Confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. The earnest prayer of a righteous person has great power and produces wonderful results (James 5:16)
        • As you look around and hear the conversations around you, are brothers and sisters amidst the body sharing life with one another, inviting one another to pray through their trials and celebrate in their victories?  Are the members real with one another and with depth?  Is it clear that Family gets messy, but that through the mess, they stick together?
    • What else to look for?
      • It may sound indecent but look for signs of vulnerability.
        • I don’t consider volume in worship or the knowledge of the pastor or the lifting of hands to be indicators of the health of a church.  All of those are conditions of thinking and behaving that can be practiced and ‘perfected’ to mask the real condition, but they can also be conditions of thinking or behavior surrendered and practiced to honor God.  There is little way to tell at first.
        • Rather, I look for such evidence of transparency amidst the congregation as an influx in the voice and tears–which indicate sincerity, as the expression of inner workings is visible to others in the church and may be an invitation for other to walk alongside, pray with, and celebrate individual deliverances.
        • Where is the pastor’s family? Church plants have a set of limitations, often requiring the pastor’s wife to be serving in children’s ministry, perhaps.  But if you’re visiting a prominent church, watch for the wife and the children.  Does she seem to have a voice in the relationship? Does he take the time to lead his family before he leads the church?  Do his kids seem to respect and know their father–an indication of his presence and intentionality with them in the home?
        • Diversity. Who is welcome at the church and who stays?  Consider ages, nationalities, genders, marital status, socio-economic status, any and all populations represented in the community the church serves.
  5. Remember to submit, surrender, together as you abide in God the Father, Christ Jesus His Son, and the Holy Spirit.
    • Don’t give up.  Remember God wants you in relationship with Him and with His children.  Remain persistent in the search, in the prayer, and in the commitment.
    • Pray and together discern what God has purposed each of you to do–the action involved in honoring God with your living.  Consider the purposes of each of the churches you’ve experienced and make the decision that best honors self, other, and God.
    • Practice allowing needs (what God asks you or your spouse to) to outweigh wants (preferences) in your decision making.  And consider, if the church doesn’t meet a need right now, “is God calling us to bear this burden and bring ____ to the church?”  If it isn’t an ask from God, it’ll most likely be a burden to heavy to bear without His strength, and a church to remove from your considerations.  If the answer is yes, include your inner circle in praying for humility and connection as you begin with the church, patience to see the ___ added into God’s workings of the church, strength to carry His ask of you, and to remain with hearts of joy and thankfulness for the opportunity to express His presence in you in such a way.
    • Invite your praying friends, family, and former church members to pray with you as you transition into a new body of Christ.  This should never be done alone–live as a child of God, along with your brothers and sisters.
  6. Commit, dive in, join the Family, and serve God and His people through your giftings.

I hope that the framework, steps, and tools prove to be helpful to you in your present and/or future ventures in seeking out a sanctuary where God plants you.  In all of your pursuits, may God be clear in allowing you the understanding to apply His Truth to the Way in which you go.  That none of us wander too long, for we truly find ourselves in community with others who know us and work to share God.

My dear brothers and sisters, if someone among you wanders away from the truth and is brought back, you can be sure that whoever brings the sinner back from wandering will save that person from death and bring about the forgiveness of many sins (James 5:19-20).

And may we always live lives of love.



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