Archive for May, 2015


Do You See Dead People Walking?

 I’m guessing that most of us have heard of the Taj Mahal. Some may not know where it is, but the name is certainly familiar enough (it’s in India if you were wondering). But most people are not really aware of what the place actually is. The most that some know is that it is a “fancy place.” The fact is that the Taj Mahal is primarily and foremost a mausoleum—in other words; it’s a place to store dead people. I won’t bother you with a lot of details, but about 360 years ago a king built it for resting place of his beloved queen who died during childbirth. Another very famous mausoleum is the West Minister Abbey, which is where England buries her royalty and national heroes. The sad thing about the Abbey is that it originally was a church, but it ceased to be so hundreds of years ago. Now it a place for royal weddings and storing dead people.

It strikes me that a lot of church facilities are more like mausoleums than ministry centers. For some reason we Christians get attached to the buildings where we worship, and sooner or later we turn them into things of worship, which inevitably leads them to becoming more like mausoleums—which are places that people generally don’t want to go, much less spend a lot of time there. It’s a rather odd habit to say the least. Jesus knew this about us, he once said “. . . for the sons of this age are more shrewd in relation to their own kind than the sons of light. And I say to you, make friends for yourselves by means of the wealth of unrighteousness, so that when it fails, they will receive you into the eternal dwellings” (Luke 16.8b-9). Simply put, Jesus noticed that the people of God weren’t too smart about using money for the purpose of reaching the lost for Him, and this is most obvious with respect to how we use our church buildings.

Most church facilities are basically cared for like mausoleums that are filled with dated esthetics and furniture, instead centers for constant ministry activities. Our facilities should be more like college campuses than places that are primarily used one day a week, or where people go to get married or buried. Think of it this way, if church buildings were businesses then it wouldn’t be long before Christianity would go bankrupt because of lack of use. In order for a retail outlet to be profitably it must be easily accessible and endure a lot of foot traffic. To put it simply, in order for a store to make money it needs to have a lot of different people go to it and they need to do so often. Some may say “how crass, you aren’t talking about a store, but about the church!” And I say that mindset couldn’t be more wrong! Those who are in Christ and are members of your congregation are those that Jesus has made holy, not the facility in which you meet. If people in your fellowship start thinking of the building where you meet as something sacred and requires preservation, then they will inevitably become an impediment to effective ministry with respect to the use of your fellowship’s facilities. And if they become the majority, then your church will function more like a mausoleum than a ministry center. They will in essence turn your facility into sterile places of inactivity rather than a place where sinners regularly come and have their lives changed through the gospel.

It’s tragic that as fellowships grow more and more people try to make their ministry facilities more and more comfortable, and inevitably nicer carpet, furniture, and décor begins to show up. This has an unintended consequence, which is an insatiable desire to protect and preserve the building’s esthetics. The only way this can be done is if those in charge restrict the availability and use of the ministry’s facilities. In other words, some in your congregation will become more concerned with preserving everything within the building, rather than hoping it all gets worn out by constant use. The interesting thing about retail stores is that they account for the wear, abuse, damage, and theft as part of the price of doing business, and if they didn’t they would lose money! In case you are unaware, baked into the price of everything you buy at the grocery store is the cost of what someone else steals or breaks. Moreover, whether you realize it or not, all of that furniture, carpet, and décor in your facility will become dated in about 10 years. In other words, it will not be long before your facility’s esthetics start to become less fashionable and attractive to visitors and seekers, so what’s the use in trying to preserve it all? Why not allow it to be used and worn out for the cause of the gospel? Moreover, people are messy, especially with things they didn’t buy with their own money. Consequently, if more and more people begin to come to your “chapel,” they will inevitably spill things, tear things, break things, and even possibly vomit on things—as anyone in children’s ministry can attest. So we should get use to it and realize that it’s all part of the price of doing effective ministry. I’m not suggesting that we should allow people to intentionally abuse the resources that God has entrusted to us. Nevertheless, wear and tear as well as accidental abuses will occur, and when they do, the last thing anyone should do is get mad or upset because someone has messed up the esthetics of your ministry facilities. The bottom line is this, church buildings should be envisioned as beehives of ministry, training, and worship rather than mausoleums where dead people go once a week.

Copyright @ by Monte Shanks, 2014


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 Vacation from church

Memorial Day is just around the corner—what a tragedy! It’s a tragedy because for many in American churches Memorial Day signals the official day when summer vacation from church begins. I know of several churches where once Memorial Day has passed all “regular” mid-week ministries and activities go on a “break” until late August or early September (presumably after Labor Day or when school starts again). And I am using the term “ministry” for these mid-week ministries rather loosely, since I can’t be certain that any real training for cultural engagement with the gospel is occurring, or that anyone is maturing in their theological development, or that worship happens, or that people are coming to faith in Christ at these events. But this “break” from church doesn’t only affect the mid-week ministries, it also affects the summer Sunday’s attendance. I know of several families that routinely go camping or to their lake house every weekend during the summer months. And when they return from their summer away from church I never hear them talk about the exciting things that happened at their adopted churches where they spent their weekends. Nor do I ever hear them share about how they saw several family members make decisions for Christ, or who is discipling them, or the mission trips they went upon in adopted vacation area. Instead, all I see are their suntans, and all I hear about is how much better they are at water skiing.

I have to be honest and say I find it very strange that people would think it perfectly acceptable to return to their “home church” in early September and begin to worshiping one who said “For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it; but whoever loses his life for My sake will find it” (Matthew 16.25). I’m not sure the apostle Paul would understand such behavior either. Some of you may remember Paul, he’s the guy who wrote “Suffer hardship with me, as a good soldier of Christ Jesus. No soldier in active service entangles himself in the affairs of everyday life, so that he may please the one who enlisted him as a soldier” (2 Timothy 2.3-4). Nor do I remember the apostle Peter teaching anywhere about summer vacation from church. But I do remember he writing “Therefore, since Christ has suffered in the flesh, arm yourselves also with the same purpose, because he who has suffered in the flesh has ceased from sin, so as to live the rest of the time in the flesh no longer for the lusts of men, but for the will of God” (1 Peter 4.1-1). The apostle John wrote something very similar, which was “Do not love the world nor the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh and the lust of the eyes and the boastful pride of life, is not from the Father, but is from the world. The world is passing away, and also its lusts; but the one who does the will of God lives forever” (1 John 2.15-17). And what about James’s thoughts on summer vacation from church? I can’t think of any, but he did write “You adulterous people don’t you know that friendship with the world means enmity against God? Therefore, anyone who chooses to be a friend of the world becomes an enemy of God. Or do you think Scripture says without reason that he jealously longs for the spirit he has caused to dwell in us?” That is very interesting, God himself “jealously desires” our spirits that he created and put within us. He vehemently wants us to participate in serving him as we separate ourselves from the world and join with other like-minded believers in corporate worship. But hey, during the months of June, July, and August some people think they get a “hall pass” from that whole church thing. Interestingly enough, I even know of others who use this same mentality of “a break from church” during the football season as well. During the fall you can’t find them in church simply because they have made tailgating into an art form. So, if the team’s in town their not at church, and for those who have RVs, well then where ever the team is so are they.

I think the author of Hebrews said it best when he wrote “let us draw near with a sincere heart in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water. Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for He who promised is faithful; and let us consider how to stimulate one another to love and good deeds, not forsaking our own assembling together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another; and all the more as you see the day drawing near” (Hebrews 10.22-25).  It seems the overwhelming exhortation of the biblical writers is that authentic Christians look forward to worshiping together rather than finding reasons to avoid it. The scriptures indicate that true Christians would think it unimaginable to take a couple months out of the year to get away from the very endeavor that Jesus is most passionate about—which is building his church (Matt 16.18). How odd it is that people think it acceptable to take a break for weeks at a time and leave their Lord behind to work alone. Jesus himself said to his own disciples “If anyone wishes to come after Me, he must deny himself, and take up his cross and follow Me” (Matt 16.24). If you really want to know how serious you are about what you believe about the Lordship of Jesus Christ, then you only need to ask “who is looking at whose back”? If you are looking at the back of Jesus, then you are a true follower, but if Jesus is looking at your back, then you are the one walking in the wrong direction. Nevertheless, regardless of where you are heading this summer here is one sobering thought: lost people will still die and slip into a Christ-less eternity during June, July, and August. So how could any right-minded follower of the Jesus think it’s no big deal to take the summer off from serving the Lord and reaching the lost with the gospel of Jesus Christ?

Copyright @ by Monte Shanks, 2014

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