Every year at our Annual Business Meeting I deliver an address called “The State of the Church.” In it, I try to give an honest analysis of what is going on at Southern Hills Baptist Church and what needs to be improved. I think churches make a mistake when they sweep problems under the rug and fail to address them. Here is the address I gave Sunday night, August 28. You can tell me what you think of what I said.
To the People of Southern Hills Baptist Church:
It is my duty to provide a report on the condition of the church – no easy task. We are not a for-profit company so I cannot point to the bottom line to show our progress. I am not a fortune teller so I cannot project the future and tell you what is going to happen. I am a preacher so what I have is the Word of God by which to determine the state of the church and the progress we are making.
There are churches that focus on “getting by,” trying to survive, maintaining the status quo. In this economy, most churches are struggling financially and many are just trying to keep the lights on and the doors open. We have not had to have any meetings to figure out what we are doing with the extra money that has come in, but we are paying our bills. Every time I am about to panic at the declining balance, God’s people open their wallets and we get back into the black. We are “getting by,” but that is not enough.
Some churches are satisfied with “doing some good.” Too often, we focus on having worship services, doing some ministries and satisfying ourselves that we have done some good things. Southern Hills is a good church with good ministries. We are “doing some good” but that is not enough. As I read the scriptures, it is impossible to let ourselves become subject to the tyranny of low expectations, being satisfied with just accomplishing a few good things. The church is called to do great things and “doing some good” is just not enough.
For many today, the focus is “growing the church.” For Americans, bigger is better. We shop at Walmart and eat at McDonalds and we love our megachurches. The standard of success is now the size of the congregation so the measure of success is growth. Are we bigger than last year? Are more seats in the cushions of our pews on Sunday mornings? I don’t actually track it carefully, so I cannot say for sure whether we have grown in the last year. We are neither substantially bigger nor substantially smaller than a year ago. We are probably about the same size, but we still are seeing some new people get involved with our church – something that is exciting and encouraging. But, the kingdom of God is not about Southern Hills Baptist Church. Southern Hills Baptist Church needs to be about the Kingdom of God – that is the proper order at all times. Simply put, “growing the church” is not enough.
There is one standard and one standard only that is sufficient to measure our fellowship of believers. God has commissioned us to “reach our city” with the gospel of Jesus Christ. The great commission calls us to be on mission to reach the world and it is our special duty to bring the gospel to this city (or in our case, this group of cities in the tri-state region known as Siouxland). We must do missions worldwide, nationwide, and statewide. But our key task to is bring the transformational gospel of Jesus Christ to all of Siouxland.
So, the key standard by which to judge this church or any other is this: “Are you reaching your city with the gospel of Jesus Christ?”
I am pleased that there are a lot of people who are taking the gospel to the city. Our evangelism teams go out into fairs and festivals and share a very clear gospel presentation with hundreds of people who need Jesus. The Park Fellowship is demonstrating Christ’s love atLake Forestand seeing some results. Our Upward ministry brings many people into our building where they hear the gospel and gives us an opportunity to impact the lives of children. We participate in World Changers every summer and help the hurting. Many of our people are sharing Christ with friends and family on a regular basis.
But I am convinced that we can do better. We cannot be content with getting by, doing some good or even growing the church. We must be content with nothing less than storming this city with the gospel and proclaiming the Lordship of Christ over Siouxland. In that light, I would make the following observations.
1) We need to focus on the Kingdom, not just the Church.
I saw a tweet recently that said, “A dying church is marked by an inward focus.” When a church turns inward and is concerned primarily about itself and its needs, it is a marker of illness and encroaching death. We cannot be both self-centered and city-reaching.
The question can never be, “What do I want?” It cannot even be, “What will make this a better church?” Our question must be, “How can we reach this city?”
This is a subtle but significant difference. We must make it a reality at SHBC.
2) We must die to self to live for Jesus.
American Christianity has produced a spiritual fiction that God is here to help you help you to be healthy and happy and to succeed in accomplishing your goals in life. Jesus called us to deny ourselves and take up our crosses to follow him. We are crucified with Christ to our own goals and ambitions and raised to walk a new life under the Lordship of Christ.
Until God’s people die daily to themselves and embrace the Lordship of Christ in every area of their lives, we will spin our wheels spiritually.
And then, when we examine our churches ministries, we come from the perspective of “what glorifies God?” and “what helps to reach our city?” not “what do I like?” or “what am I used to?” It’s not about me. It’s not about us. We are dead. But dying, we live in Christ.
If significant progress is to be made in a Siouxland gospel effort, then our world needs to “see dead people” – dead to self but alive in Christ.
3) We must allow no human obstacles to the gospel.
Traditions can be good; helping us to remember what is important – spiritual markers that guide us on the path of life. They can also hinder the work of God in a church, if they are allowed to become a hindrance to the gospel.
Paul encountered a perversion of Christianity inGalatiathat he confronted harshly. Jewish believers were demanding that people who wanted to become Christians must first become Jews. They required them to be circumcised first, to follow Jewish law as a condition of Christian life. Paul was having none of that. He never downgraded the demands of Christ but there was no way he was going to allow anyone to put a human obstacle into the path of the gospel.
We are a conservative church – theologically of course (and I hope that will never change), but also socially and personally. There is nothing wrong with being who you are in Christ. But we must never let our conservative culture be a barrier to people hearing the gospel. We must never compromise the call of Christ, but we must also never be in a position of declaring that people must become like us socially and personally to come to Christ. Too often we hold onto our preferences and traditions even though they are a barrier to the gospel.
The simple fact is that we live in a changing world. In a few years, my generation and those who are older than me will be gone – I’m not trying to be morbid here, but facts are facts. What will the church be then? If we put human traditions ahead of gospel passion, the outlook is bleak. There is a danger that we value the culture in which we were raised and lived and seek to hold on to that culture even as the world around us changes dramatically.
Let me be clear. I’m not saying all of our traditions are wrong or need to be thrown out. I’m not really a radical – I think you know that. But there is no tradition that is worth becoming a barrier to the gospel.
We must never tell people that if they want to meet Jesus and become like HIM, they must first of all become like US. Never.
We need to examine everything we do by two key questions:
1) Is it biblical? We tend to think that the way we have always done things must be biblical, but we must make sure. If it is biblical, we stand without compromise. If it is just a tradition, we must never let that become a hindrance to the spread of the gospel of Jesus Christ.
2) Is it helpful in reaching the city? We need to examine everything we do, as long as it passes the biblical test, by this question. Does our current service schedule help us reach the city with the gospel? Do our programs aid our purpose? Are there processes or procedures we need to change to help us become more of what God wants us to be?
I will ask you again, “Is there any human tradition so valuable that it is worth becoming an obstacle to the spread of the gospel in Siouxland?” I know you will say no. But when we examine our traditions, we must remember this question.
Let me draw this to a close. The power of God has not been diminished. The love of God still draws sinners to the Cross. The gospel is still the power of God for the salvation of everyone who believes. Things are difficult now and times are hard. But the future is bright to the people who accept the call to reach the city with the gospel, who die to self and who lay down every tradition or obstacle to the work of the gospel in the city.
In hope of a bright future,