The Offense of the Cross

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The truth hurts or so I’ve been told. It’s such a common saying that some may even mistakenly think that it has a scriptural basis. I guess the truth did hurt. It hurt Jesus when He laid down all of His righteousness in order to take on all of our sin. The truth is that I am a sinner and needed a Savior. The truth is that Jesus took all of my sin and gave me His righteousness. The truth did hurt, it hurt more than we will ever know.

However, in communicating biblical truth and teaching the revelation of Jesus Christ it seems that some feel the need to be offensive with the Gospel. Not realizing that it is not us that should be offensive, but the Gospel itself. Paul, in 1 Corinthians 9 talked about presenting the Gospel in a way that made it easy for people to relate to. The early church fathers in the first council of leaders determined, “we should not make it difficult for the gentiles who are turning to Christ” in Acts 15. The cross is offensive in itself. It says that I am so bad that a perfect person had to be slaughtered on my behalf and could/can do nothing to save myself. Jesus is in scripture is called the stumbling block. He is the only way of salvation. There is no other name given that has the power to save us. In preaching and creating worship services my main goal is not to be an offense or stumbling block before people have had a chance to get to the cross and the decision concerning Jesus Christ.

Here are few things to think about in communicating the truth of Jesus Christ:

1. The Cross is an offense so I don’t have to be (I don’t want arrogance, pride, or a negative attitude to offend people before they have ever had a chance to make it to the cross of Calvary)

2. Jesus is a stumbling block so I don’t have to be (I don’t want my method to trip people before they have ever had a chance to really make a decision about Jesus Christ)

3. I want to find the most effective and current way to relate the message of the cross and Jesus Christ

4. I don’t want to make it difficult for people who are turning to Christ (Jesus accused the Pharisee’s of entering the kingdom of God and locking the door behind them by adding difficult rules and regulations)

Your Best Plus 1

Your best plus 1. That’s the definition of excellence given to me by a friend and former mentor. Dr. Ken Brassfield has since gone on to be with the Lord, but his definition of excellence has stuck with me for over 10 years. We all understand that perfection is a myth and no one, and nothing will ever be “perfect.” However, we do want to strive for excellence in all that we do. That leaves us with the question, how do you define excellence? The simple definition of excellence given to me was to do your very best, and then add 1 thing. In other words strive to do your very best, and then figure out ways to grow, increase, or improve upon your best. A culture of excellence is created when we do the diligent work of offering our best. However, without a desire to grow, improve, stretch, learn, and become better we cap our potential and lose our excellence. When I sat down to craft the values of CoastLife Church the first item on the values list was excellence. After having been raised in a Pastor’s home and having been in the ministry for over a decade I am well acquainted with Churches that operate with a lack of excellence. They are easily identified by things like not be able to start a service on time, or even worse, not being able to end a service in a timely manner. I have been to a few services that I wondered if the people in charge were aware that there would indeed be a service going on that day. Did Sunday sneak up on them? I was once invited to speak at a service that was to have a potluck dinner afterwards. At the end of a very disorganized service the announcement was made that the potluck had been canceled. Evidently every single person that brought food to the potluck brought the same item, bread. That type of a lack of excellence is easy to spot. However, working from the definition of best plus 1 exposes a more subtle lack of excellence. It’s when we have a norm of offering at or near our best, but haven’t grown, increased, or attempted to go over the top in a long time. I would say most churches that I know of right now wouldn’t have a potluck dinner with just bread. However, I wonder how many could claim a culture of excellence if we applied the best plus 1 filter. Excellence isn’t just a good idea, its actually connected to your love of people, ministry, and even God. Paul ended chapter 12 of his first epistle to Corinth by saying, “I show you a more excellent way.” The next chapter to follow is what we term the love chapter. If you love people, if you love ministry, if you love God you will have a desire to operate with excellence. Here are a few questions to ask to help apply the best plus 1 filter:

1. Who is really looking at your operations?

Not everyone needs to be a critic, but a small group of people do need to be tasked with the job of critiquing the critical aspects of your church.

2. What type of self observation do you utilize to bring about improvement?

In a coaching network I came across these 4 questions I ask after every Sunday: 1. What went right 2. What went wrong 3. What was confusing/awkward 4. What was missing

3. What areas of your church/ministry have been good so long, they are no longer excellent? What areas of your church/ministry are good, but could use some fresh growth?

 

Broken Churches Produce Broken People

“Broken Churches produce broken people.” I’m not using the word “broken” in a super spiritual, broken, contrite kind of way. I mean that in the lazy, listless, and stagnated kind of way.

This phrase was told to me by my good friend Phil Brassfield. I was struggling with how to approach change, and exactly what we should do as we planned to relaunch an existing church into what is now CoastLife Church. It took a year for me to finally get a launch date, and officially begin the church that God had placed in my heart. I took an existing, broken church of 15 people. No, I’m not exaggerating or lying. The average attendance of the church was 15. Something I didn’t foresee happened over the course of the year before the relaunch. The church began to grow, up to and as many as 30 people in attendance. Yes, I will be glad to speak at your next Church Growth Conference. However, it concerned me because the old church was beginning to become the enemy of the new church. The growth was not from new believers, it wasn’t people coming back to Christ, or current Christ followers find a deeper experience at our church. The “new” people were mirror images of the old church. Lazy, lethargic, bitter, and often times hateful people. I was expressing my frustration when Phil reminded me that “like produces like.” Apples produce apples, oranges produce oranges, and broken churches produce broken people. We were a broken, unhealthy church and we were attracting broken, unhealthy people. Please understand that we are all about reaching the hurting, and helping those in despair. Broken is a term I use to describe people who are trapped in tradition, cold in their relationship with God, and generally satisfied to be unhealthy and not growing spiritually. Churches that fit that description attract and produce Christians that fit that description. I’m proud to say that in June of 2010 we relaunched into a healthy vibrant church. All but 2 of the original members have left. Our church is now a healthy, life giving environment that provides healing to literally hundreds of people. Here are 3 questions to ask to determine if a church is broken:

1. Are there questions you hope people don’t ask?

A church that is unclear about its doctrine, vision, and direction is a broken church. If you hope you don’t have to be honest with new people because it will offend the old people you have a problem.

2. Are there things practiced, but not preached?

A healthy church has a solid alignment between what is preached and what is practiced. If it isn’t clearly communicated from the pulpit it shouldn’t be enforced anywhere else. If stated and unstated values aren’t aligned it leads to a broken culture.

3. Are there people you wish would go ahead and die?

Okay, perhaps retire might be a more palatable phrase. Nevertheless, you get my point. Are there people in positions who have long since lost the passion, purpose, and vision of the house. Honestly, it would be better to have no ministry than to have those people in leadership in your church. Shut it down, burn it down, resign and retire people. Do whatever it takes to see your church healthy and producing a life giving environment.