Thursday, June 5, 2014

Becoming A Church That Prays

I shared yesterday a short review of Thom Rainer's new book, Autopsy of a Deceased Church. In the book, as he articulates the evidences of those things that ended up killing churches. In one of the chapters, he mentioned a silent killer is when the church starts praying together less and less. That struck a chord with me.

Over the past six months, I have had this impression that our church does not pray together "quite enough." Now on one hand, I'm not sure what "quite enough" would look like. Do you? Does it mean that everyone comes to a prayer meeting every week? Does it mean that when prayer requests are sent out by email, 100% of those emails are opened and people actually take time praying? Maybe the term "quite enough" is not a good qualifier for what I'm feeling. I simply feel as though it could be easy for us to get on the path of self-dependence by not calling out on the Lord to do His work in our midst.

It sure seems as when I read the book of Acts, the people got together and prayed together. In the book, Rainer makes this observation:
"When the early Jerusalem church members devoted themselves to prayer, they were doing a lot more than reading names off a list. They were fervent, intense, and passionate about prayer. They had no doubt that god was listening and responding. A failure to pray was tantamount to a failure to breathe. Prayer was not an add-on to give them permission to eat a meal. It was serious stuff for a serious group of church members. Prayer was the lifeblood of the early church" (67).

What would it look like for a group of people to get together to pray with one another for the sole purpose of crying out to the Lord?

How would it change a church if people prioritized prayer and didn't treat it like an add-on or something they had to do before they ate lunch?

What would it say to new people if the church continually sought the dependence of the Lord in all things at all times?

This has been something that has been on my mind for some time now. I have begun reading books and actually praying myself, that I would learn what it means to pray. I want to dig deeper into this subject. Will you with me? Will you just take 10 minutes today to pray? Not just for health issues, but for praise and worship out of a spirit of dependence upon the Lord. And the next time you are together with people from the church, would you consider praying with each other for each other?

All to His glory and our good!

Wednesday, June 4, 2014

Autopsy of a Deceased Church by Thom Rainer

Several weeks ago, I received Thom Rainer's new book, Autopsy of a Deceased Church, in the mail to read and review. It took me just a few hours to read through the book, but I have waiting several weeks to write this review. I wanted to process some of the information he writes about in this book as I filter these thoughts through the grid of my church.

I am not sure I know of anyone who wants their church to die. Who would? But we know that it happens every day. While the Church universally is not dying and will not be stopped (Matthew 16:18), individual churches are dying. Constantly, there are churches that shut their doors and stop doing ministry. And for these churches, Rainer argues they almost never see it coming. They fail to see the subtle signs that indicate they are headed for disaster. He says,
"It is rare for a long-term church member to see erosion in his or her church. Growth may come rapidly, but decline is usually slow, imperceptibly slow. This erosion is the worst type of decline for churches, because the members have no sense of urgency to change. they see the church on a regular basis; they don't see the gradual decline that is taking place before their eyes" (12-13).
Throughout this book, Rainer gives several reasons of attitudes that killed the church. For some, it is glorifying the past instead of living in the present. For others, it is an inward looking church. Still for some it is a church that becomes about facilities instead of people. His research and observations are extremely helpful.

At the end of every chapter, he includes a short prayerful commitment that seeks to summarize the chapter. And then there are several helpful questions that makes a person think about their current situation. I could easily see this book being read together with a small group or even a leadership team.

At the very end of the book, Rainer gives four responses for those who think their church is sick; four responses for those who think their church is very sick; and four responses for those that think their church is dying (or is dead). They are worth the time to think about and pray through with your individual church.

It is a very short book, but a helpful book. The research and experience of church ministry that Rainer brings to this topic is something that all of us can learn from. I would recommend it not just for your library, but for your thinking about church life.

I received a copy of Autopsy of a Deceased Church by Thom Rainer from B&H Publishers for review.

Tuesday, June 3, 2014

Anniversary, Race, & Chicago

I was on vacation last week, which is why I did not write anything on my blog. I did some work around the house the first few days, but then took Monique on a short trip to one of our favorite cities in the world. Without a doubt, the highlight of my vacation was this trip to Chicago with my wonderful wife and some good friends from our church. Here we are in front of Buckingham Fountain:

The purpose of our trip was to participate (I'd say 'run' but we didn't really 'run') in the Great Urban Race. If you have ever watched the Amazing Race, I'd say it is much like that except for only in one city. At the end of last year, we were talking with our friends, Steve & Sandy, about this race and they said they had never been to Chicago and wanted to participate in it. While racing is not normally in our vocabulary, we wanted to do it with them (plus, he said he wanted to hit all the good Chicago food places . . . who could resist that?).

16th Anniversary
Getting out of town for the race was an easy decision once we learned it took place the day after our 16th anniversary. It is hard to believe that we have been married that long. Sixteen years. It was here in Chicago that we first met. I was a student at Moody Bible Institute, she was a Wheaton College girl. We met at the best place to meet someone, a church. While our "romance" didn't start until either of us were no longer in school, our friendship began right away. 

Even after sixteen years, I am still getting to know this woman. Her example of forgiveness marvels me. I know I mess things up all the time with her. I say things too harshly. I am selfish. I am quick to think of myself. And she quietly goes about her business, letting go of my sins in the ways of Jesus Christ. She truly is a great woman and I love her very much.

The Great Urban Race
Even though we did not "run", the race was way more difficult than I anticipated it being. It was really spread out. We calculated it by the end of the day, we walked about 9 miles (plus another 2-3 after the race to get pizza and then to Navy Pier for fireworks). It was an exhausting day. 

At the beginning of the race, you are given a clues that will help you figure out the 12 locations around the city in which you need to go. At each location, there is an obstacle you have to complete to get credit for it. There was everything from Corn Hole to Parkour to imitating statues. 

If I were to design the course, I would have the locations closer together with more difficult challenges at each location. But it was still fun and we were still smiling after the race was completed. While we have never done anything like this before, it certainly would be fun to do it again.

It is truly one of my favorite cities to visit. The food is the best around, and trust me, we did our best to eat as much of it as possible. It's probably a good thing that we walked over ten miles everyday there, for it gave us excuses to eat lots of pizza and beef. 

After the race on Saturday night, Monique and I went on a boat ride to watch the fireworks. As we witnessed the city at night lit up in all of its glory. It was amazing. And then to sit on the water on a boat and watch the fireworks was amazing as well. There are not many things like it in the world I have experienced.

As we sat on that boat, I began to marvel at the ingenuity of mankind. Sinful, fallen man created all of this. The architecture is superb. The lights. The buildings. As I thought of this, my mind quickly raced toward what the Great City of God is going to be like. If this is what sinful, fallen, imperfect man can come up with, what will a perfect, Holy, infinite God create in His city? It is described as "having the glory of God, its radiance like a most rare jewel, like a jasper, clear as crystal" (Revelation 21:11). I can't wait to see what God has in store for those who know Jesus Christ.