The Criterion of Successful Churches

Indeed, the criterion of successful churches in the future is not how much Bible knowledge their people have, [or] how strong their pastor is in the pulpit….While content and pulpit expertise aren’t to be minimized, the biblical measure of success is whether they’re making disciples.

-Aubrey Malphurs, Planting Growing Churches For The 21st Century (Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 2004), 30 (via mijah)

Pray for Your Elders

Pray for Your Elders

You see: what if all those lousy elders out there had an army of people like you praying for them daily, crying out to heaven, “God: you have him/them to this church full of your people, and now you have to either give him the gifts to lead them and the love to lead them and the power in your Spirit to lead them, or you need to convict him to move on. Please God: teach this man to be a shepherd and a brother to those whom you have given under his position. They are your people, and for their sake, and the sake of Christ who bought them, make him worthy.”

Closed for Business

The Graduate makes an excellent case that the church is a body, not a business. My favorite paragraph:

It seems that if someone sees a weakness in the body, he treats it like a messed-up fast food order. He is displeased and complains to those around him. He may just deal with it for a while, but if it happens week after week, then he decides to leave and never come back. He may leave without talking to anyone, but he may also ask to see the manager to give his two cents about how he thinks it should be done and then storms out.

Puritanic Rigidity Is not the Problem

Series | The Lord’s Day

Charles Spurgeon once wrote,

Ah, sirs! there may have been a time when Christians were too precise, but it has not been in my day. There may have been such a dreadful thing as Puritanic rigidity, but I have never seen it. We are quite free from that evil now, if it ever existed. We have gone from liberty to libertinism. We have passed beyond the dubious into the dangerous, and none can prophesy where we shall stop. (quoted by MacArthur, Ashamed of the Gospel, p.87)

Even though Spurgeon was specifically confronting the church’s general lack of holiness in the Down-Grade, I think the quote applies equally well to our modern day disregard for the Lord’s day.

Perhaps we don’t value the Lord’s day because for all our talk, we’re not that desperate for God after all. We treat the Lord as if He were dispensable and we take delight in other things. Maybe if we hadn’t been busy all week trying to drink from broken cisterns we would thirst for the fountain of living waters and come for a corporate drink on His day.

Still the discipline of celebrating the Lord’s day every first day reminds us how much we need Him and how important His Body is. I think that’s why John Calvin said about Sunday corporate meeting,

we adopt it as a necessary remedy for preserving order in the Church. (Institutes, 2.VIII.33)

This is especially so for those of us in student ministry. I am convinced that the first mark of a healthy student ministry is that we are part of the local church. We will always be sickly and weak if we do not participate and praise the Lord on His day with His Body in “big church.”

As we lay to rest this series on the Lord’s day, let me conclude with one final thought. My son Calvin is almost two. He doesn’t know a lot of words but he’s at least learned (his own version of) the names of all the people living at our house. Since he can’t call things by what they are, he identifies an item by the person who owns it. He’ll circle the room and point out everything he recognizes by who uses it: books, chairs, ladders, coffee cups, cars, whatever. The question is, if someone looked at how you spend your Sunday, who would they say owned it? You? Or the Lord?

A Week on the Merry-Go-Round

Series | The Lord’s Day

Obviously our whole lives are to be worship; worship is more than just a Sunday activity even though I’ve tried to make the case that there is something special about the Lord’s day. Not only that, there may be times when the best way for us to worship on a given Sunday means we might miss the meeting of the church. Yet I do believe our customary course toward the corporate meeting of the church on the first day of the week should be like water in a steep, downhill pipe.

Here’s the linchpin to the previous paragraph: The Lord’s day is a part of whole-life worship. Worship is not a one day a week activity, nor is there only one way to worship on that day.

Of course, that teeters the totter to the other side. In everything I’ve said so far about the Lord’s day, maybe it seems like we’re supposed to pause from life on Sunday for worship. In that case Sunday is like a big fat guy at the bottom of a seesaw, laughing at six little school girls of the rest of the week, suspended high above the ground. And to be sure, Sunday corporate worship is weighty. The neglect of the Lord’s day is a serious threat. That is, after all, why I parked here so long to preach and press and plead.

But the above paragraph is not my attempt at being “balanced,” it’s my appeal for being passionate. Sunday and the other six days are on not on opposite sides of a seesaw. Instead, Sunday is like that same big fat guy propelling those little school girls on the merry-go-round faster and faster till they squeal with delight. First day gathering isn’t an interruption of life for worship, it incites and impels whole-life worship.

That’s precisely why the Lord’s day is not a list of “can nots” and why occasionally our best worship may not be with the Body on Sunday and also why I still think the first day is the best day. So as we talk with each other/students/parents, let’s not be balanced about Sunday, let’s be passionate about worship.

Passionately Exult in Worship

Series | The Lord’s Day

This is the fourth piece of practical advice for how to regard the Lord’s day as the best day.

4. Celebrate

Isn’t this the whole point? Anticipation and participation and concentration culminate in worship. Sunday service is not a funeral, it is a solemn party of praise for our risen Savior! Surely there is a place for repentance, for mourning and sorrow over sin, but didn’t Jesus say those were the truly happy (blessed) people (Matthew 5:3-4)?

With Heart Integrity

Integrity and authenticity are buzzwords today. Some pastors are changing “church” because they feel like too many Christians camouflage their misery with polite, cheesy, Christianese speak; that’s not integrity. And I agree to some extent. We ought not pretend that everything is alright if it isn’t. That’s hypocrisy. But we also shouldn’t act like there’s no forgiveness and remedy our sin. That’s folly.

The heart is at the center of each piece of practical advice and at the core of each possible activity for the Lord’s day. Of course, genuine worship comes from the heart. At the same time genuine worship is commanded in Scripture. So how do we obey the command to worship if our heart isn’t right? It doesn’t mean that we worship superficially or that worship is out, it means we first need to get our heart in line for the sake of worship.

So if our heart isn’t right, let’s not act like it is. But if our heart isn’t right, let’s get it right by the gospel. That’s integrity.

With Multiplied Intensity

If all the other things are in order, watch out, Sunday is going to sizzle. There is something strong and resounding about an orchestra, even though an oboe could play the same song solo. And even though even one match catches fire, it will not burn with the heat and intensity like a whole heap of sticks.

There are multiple ways to articulate these four pieces of advice. Prepare your heart, be present, pay attention, and praise the Lord. Arrange your schedule, attend the services, adjust your spirit, and adore your Savior. Eagerly expect to worship, actively engage in worship, intently endeavor to worship, and passionately exult in worship. The important thing is that we celebrate the Lord’s day.

Intently Endeavor to Worship

Series | The Lord’s Day

Here is the third piece of practical advice for how to regard the Lord’s day as the best day.

3. Concentrate

Each piece of advice flows naturally into the next. If the Lord’s day is worth our anticipation and participation, certainly it deserves our concentration.

Free from Distraction

It’s not just the leader’s responsibility to create an atmosphere that is as free from distraction as possible. We should and do try to achieve that. But there’s plenty enough to distract most people right inside their own head. Assignments, bad news, a particular guy/girl who’s there, a guy/girl who isn’t, lunch, etc., are all kinds of interference that will hinder the signal from coming through. But instead of allowing our heads to wander, we must deliberately aim our minds in adoration to the Lord.

Free from Disregard

This is dangerous. Any given person could stroll through every external thing we’ve mentioned so far and yet it all be an abomination to God. If someone’s heart is far from Him, if they come it to flaunt their righteousness, the whole show is vain. We must not disregard and disrespect the Lord (ever and definitely not) on the Lord’s day. I may not know. In fact, I may think he’s a hot snot worshipper. But I am not the audience; the Lord knows all our hearts and whether we’re concentrating on ourselves or on Him.

Actively Engage in Worship

Series | The Lord’s Day

Here is the second piece of practical advice for how to regard the Lord’s day as the best day.

2. Participate

By Getting There

Sheesh. Do I really need to say that? Apparently I do. It’s part of the reason I’m writing about the Lord’s day in the first place.

It is true that no explicit command for church worship services on Sunday can be found in Scripture. But Hebrews 10:24-25 does reveal our obligation not to neglect meeting together.

And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.

So even though there is no command for Sunday, it is imperative that we meet. And after everything we considered concerning the Lord’s day and the first day, I think the primary day for meeting was probably assumed.

Get there. Show up. Sunday is not a solo enterprise. After all, the word “church” (ἐκκλησία) means assembly, congregation, gathering, or group. We’ve heard it before, the church is not the building, it’s the people. So where are we? Corporate praise begins with our presence.

Some of my students say things like, “But my parents don’t come for first service so I can’t get here for big church.” And I typically respond, “Okay, well did you at least ask them? Maybe you did and they said no. Did you call someone for a ride? Did you set your alarm and get on your bike and ride here yourself (like one of our students does)? If you want to be here, you’ll get here.”

By Being There

Attendance is where it begins, not where it ends. We are not (to be) spectators and pastors/leaders are not performers. The congregation is not the audience; God is. And He is watching me and you!

After you get there, be there. Engage! Sing! Listen! Serve! Too many come as consumers. They come to see what other people can do for them and how well the people up front can entertain. They watch, they don’t worship. They take, they don’t partake. But the Lord’s day will only be the best day when we all participate.