Growing Worshiping Disciples on Mission for Christ


Do I Make God Cry?

CryingBut if you do not listen, I will weep in secret. Because of your pride; my eyes will weep bitterly, overflowing with tears, because the Lord’s flock will be taken captive. Jeremiah 13:17, NIV

What evil force is at the heart of our battle between outward intent and inward focus? We don’t have far to look to find our sin nature leering from behind the curtain. It’s our pride that makes us so vulnerable to this deception… and so proud of the churches we have built. Sin blinds us to what we don’t know. It will continue to blind us to what God wants us to know if we leave it unchallenged.

The active letter in the word sin is always the big “I” in the middle. I want everything to be my way, to be all about me, to meet my needs first and foremost. Because earth is the battleground between God and evil, this battle will be ever-present until Jesus comes again. But God is calling us to take the tissue paper from our ears to hear and obey his call. We must confess the “I want it my way” of sin and embrace God’s cleansing and freeing power.

Because each of us has our pet programs that meet our own needs and interests, we can’t bring ourselves to see them change. We sit in our churches with our church friends and wonder why the world doesn’t come to us. But as long as we’re happy, we don’t think about it too much. I will fight tooth and nail to save my pet program or event or meeting from change. This is institutional church at its worst. This is not kingdom of God thinking. But hey, we do church right! The rescue society has become a social club. The Lord’s greatest missionary force is being held hostage by institutionalism and church-ianity inside the church walls. It’s enough to make God weep bitterly in secret.



We sang the glorious old gospel song at the top of our lungs. It was a heart-felt response to the powerful sermon from the visiting evangelist during fall revival service.

Years I spent in vanity and pride,

Caring not my Lord was crucified,

Knowing not it was for me He died on Calvary.

Mercy there was great, and grace was free;

Pardon there was multiplied to me;

There my burdened soul found liberty At Calvary.

We had worked hard to pack our pews with those who were lost in sin throughout our community. My mother and I had even gone door-to-door to invite our neighbors. But, as usual, the church was filled exclusively with loyal church members for this Tuesday night gathering of revival week. The preacher had really warmed up tonight and preached a convicting service about Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross for the whole world. Too bad that none of the lost souls from our town were there to hear it. What could we do but continue to sing at the top of our voices? The frustrations we often felt about our church seemed to disappear in this moment of worship.

By God’s Word at last my sin I learned;

Then I trembled at the law I’d spurned,

Till my guilty soul imploring turned To Calvary.

What was she doing? I suddenly became aware that my mother was pushing past me to get into the aisle. “Mom, are you okay?” I asked as I noticed the tears running down her cheeks. She moved quickly to the front of the church and bowed her head onto the evangelist’s shoulder. What could possibly be wrong?

Now I’ve giv’n to Jesus ev’rything,

Now I gladly own Him as my King,

Now my raptured soul can only sing Of Calvary.

The song ended as my heart pounded in my chest. The evangelist stepped forward, his arm around my mother as she faced the congregation. “This dear sister has come forward tonight to say that she has been in this church all her life. But tonight her heart heard the gospel in a fresh, new way. She says she is tired of playing church. She realized tonight that the power of salvation is in her hands. She can share it or hoard it. She commits tonight to share the power of salvation in every way she can with the neighbors on her street. She knows she will have to do this by building relationships with them and serving them. It’s going to be difficult. So she asks you to pray for her to stay in the power of the cross as she makes this effort. Let’s pray right now for this dear sister.”

Oh, the love that drew salvation’s plan!

Oh, the grace that bro’t it down to man!

Oh, the mighty gulf that God did span At Calvary.

Mercy there was great, and grace was free;

Pardon there was multiplied to me;

There my burdened soul found liberty At Calvary.

GO deep, reach wide!  – Mark Powers

Credit: Hymn – Newell, “At Calvary,” Public Domain/Photo – <a href=”https://www.flickr.com/photos/donnieray/10584676434/”>donnierayjones</a&gt; via <a href=”http://photopin.com”>photopin</a&gt;



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Help! I’m Imprisoned on an Island.

alcatraz-2011-081613  The call of Christ is to make disciples who make disciples. So I ask: “Do you have an intentional process in place to equip and lead your members to become worshipers on mission—disciples who are actively engaged every day leading others to become disciples, then taking them on mission?”

Today there is a missional movement sweeping through churches in America. While missions is what we do, missional is what we are. Missional is a way of seeing, thinking, and acting to grow disciples who join God in his mission to redeem the world. When I talk with churches about joining this missional movement to pour their giftedness into their communities, I am often met with resistance and skepticism. Interestingly, worship style does not seem to be a factor in the level of resistance to missional principles. The style of your worship will not make you more or less sensitive to God’s call to join him in his mission. Neither will the size of the church. The issue goes deeper.

It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God. Mark 10:25, NIV

We have become rich and satisfied in our church clubs. That’s how we got here to this place of decline. That’s how the “Church Train” got off on the wrong track headed for a landslide. In my experience there is one primary barrier to embracing God’s call to be worshipers on mission to your community. The greatest barrier to realizing the need and getting outside the church is a pre-occupation with “doing church right” as opposed to joining God in his mission to redeem the world. (See previous post: “We Do Church Right” – 06/23/14)

A friend of mine made a presentation to a pastor and staff of a large and growing church about the call to community missions. The pastor responded after his presentation that they would not participate in this mission effort, saying, “After all, anything anyone could need, they can find in our church. We have it all right here. All they have to do is come through our doors.” Strangely enough, his response was not too far removed from the pastor of the small dying church who was also at that meeting. This pastor pleaded immunity from participating in the mission effort, saying, “Our church is dying, and we need to focus all our efforts right now on self-preservation.” Both of these pastors, while approaching it from vastly different angles, are leading their churches deeper into institutionalism and church-ianity.

Modern consumerism, defined as preoccupation with satisfying ourselves by consuming and discarding, has taken hold of the church today. Programs that were once designed to foster the dynamic cycle of worship-discipleship-mission have become all about us. The rescue society has become a social club. (See previous post: “What Happened to the Rescue Society? They became a Social Club” – 08/17/14)

A regional church consultant was invited to help a church participating in a program designed to revitalize churches so they can start new churches in their communities. After his presentation, a lady on the steering committee spoke up, “This is all well and good,” she said, “but my question for you is how quickly can you get some other young adults into our church? I am tired of being the only person in this church in my thirties. I’ll give you three months, and then I am out of here.” Somehow, church members have become convinced they are customers who should be served.

In contrast, Jesus commissioned his followers to “Go and make disciples.” Making disciples who go make other disciples is the core reason for our existence according to Jesus. We have built wonderful church buildings, programs, and events. But we have failed to make disciples transformed by Jesus who go make more disciples being transformed by him. As we have withdrawn from influencing the world, we have left the world to define right and wrong without the salt and light of God’s Word. We are failing at the very reason for our existence as Christ’s church. But we don’t even know we’ve failed because we are so busy with church-ianity. We have tissue paper in our ears, and that tissue paper is the institutional church.

Our focus on building the institutional church as our own kingdom rather than joining God to build his kingdom can take many forms, including: being all things to all people inside the church walls, maintaining traditions we hold sacred, focusing on trying not to let our church die, and on and on. A simple, straightforward presentation entitled “Missional Church: Simple” portraying the church’s institutional dilemma can be found in the Resource List on the right side of this blog page. This white board presentation was originally produced by a local church to help its members grasp the differences between attractional and missional thinking. It shows how we have tried to attract people into church by offering the very best programs, most inspirational sermons, and exciting events. When attractional events begin to decline in participation, we undergird them with larger advertising budgets and bigger promotional campaigns. Check out the video and see how it can facilitate your understanding of missional thinking.

Institutionalism also tends to foster exclusiveness. Inside the institution everyone knows the norms for behavior, the accepted phrases and terminology, and the common organizational routine. But when an outsider comes in, they can’t decipher our institutional codes that lock them out of comfortable interaction. On a recent mission trip to a Dominican Republic church, I tripped over the same unmarked step several times a day for the first four days I was there. It never failed to draw chuckles from the locals, who knew exactly where the stumbling points were and stepped around them without thinking. In the Dominican Republic they have a saying, “Because we live on an island, we think our island is the whole world.” In the institutional church, we think our island is the whole world, too.




Why Seeker-Sensitive Worship “bit the dust”

Awestruck Family

According to the Association of Religion Data Archives (www.thearda.com) the population of the United States grew 9.7 percent from 2000 to 2010, from 281,421,839 to 308,745,538. For the Christian church simply to keep up with American population growth at that same rate, we must see 27,323,699 people come to Christ over the next 10 years. But here is the astounding number: it will take 2,732 fast-growth American churches converting 1,000 a year for 10 years, just to maintain our present percentage of Christians in the population.

Notice that this number is only for maintaining the Christian percentage and allows for no growth. We may get excited about fast-growth churches, but the great majority of our churches remain in decline or barely holding their own. Many of us celebrated in 2008 when we heard reports that on an average day that year, 79,000 people converted to Christ. But we quickly realized that, in the same year, the world’s net growth rate was 300,000 people per day.5

Though we can learn from fast-growth churches, trying to replicate their blueprint may only lead to continued frustration and decline long-term. Why? Because Christ’s Great Commission calls us to go to the lost world. Ultimately, while we can win some, we cannot win the world by getting them into our churches. God plans to win the world by sending the church out of the church building into the world.

In 2007, Willow Creek Church, the foremost promoter of the seeker-sensitive model of attractional worship, published Reveal: Where Are You? with findings from a multiple-year study of its own church programs. Willow Creek pastor Bill Hybels called the findings earth-shaking, ground-breaking, and mind-blowing.” Over the years, Willow’s philosophy of ministry had been: the church creates programs and activities; people participate in these activities; and the outcome is spiritual maturity. But shockingly, the report reads: “Increasing levels of participation in these sets of activities does not predict whether someone is becoming more of a disciple of Christ. It does not predict whether they love God more or they love people more.”6

Allow me to issue a clear word of warning to church leaders and worship leaders. If we think we have cornered the market because people are knocking down the doors to get into our church, we must be very careful.

If those who attend are only there to listen and leave, we are doing nothing more than perpetrating the institutional church. Our members may even be bringing their friends to worship services, and that is good, but not good enough if their intent is to sit and soak. The model may be new, but it is still institutional. It may be a leaner, simpler structure with less programs and events, but it just might be the same church-ianity we are trying so hard to flee.


— Mark Powers

5. Mayfield, Missional Pivot Points, 22.

6. Hawkins and Parkinson, Reveal: Where Are You? Page Unknown.

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The Pharisaical Monster called “Institutionalism”


The church has always struggled with this process of changing to keep up with God’s mission to redeem the world. Jesus’ own earthly nemesis were the Pharisees, bastion of religious institutionalism and self-preservation. The Pharisees were looking for an institutional savior to empower their institution. So they did everything in their power to protect Judaism from Jesus’ influence.

In the early centuries, church fathers chronicled the young Christian church in its struggle to balance mission to the outside world and ministry inside the church. In the Middle Ages, members of smaller parishes would go on pilgrimage to the cathedral, returning home to dream of how their parishes could be more like the cathedral with all its programs and events. (We see that today when Pastors return from a Mega-Church seminar with a notebook of ways to help their small church take on lots of new programs.) The Reformation churches fought that same battle a thousand years later. One after another, courageous pastors reformed their churches from institutionalism to disciplemaking, only to fight the club mentality in their own churches again 30 to 40 years later.

In America in the 1800s and 1900s, institutionalism in the church took an interesting new turn. From the 1880s to the 1990s, evangelistic crusades featuring preachers such as D. L. Moody, Charles Finney, Billy Sunday, and Billy Graham swept across the land, producing amazing numbers of converts. These evangelistic crusades were used mightily by God to win hearts to him.

But the crusades’ success led many churches to adopt the crusades’ pattern and theology for their worship services. Weekly worship became segmented into three parts: a song service to prepare hearts, an evangelistic gospel sermon, and the invitation to make a personal decision for Christ. The term “worship” was used commonly only to designate the music portion of the service. Decisions, rather than disciples, became the goal. Of course, the centerpiece of this worship theology is the evangelistic sermon. Consequently, the motivation for evangelical churches became getting the world to come to church so non-believers could hear the gospel preached and be won to Christ.

In the 1980s, another version of the attractional model came to the forefront of evangelical churches. It was called the seeker-sensitive model and grew out of Willow Creek Church in Chicago. Like the earlier crusade approach, seeker-sensitive worship says we should do everything we can to attract those seeking spiritual fulfillment who might be open to the gospel. Seeker-sensitive worship used pop-style songs performed by a talented band along with excellently produced drama to attract those without Christ to hear a gospel presentation by the lead pastor. The production value at Willow Creek was second to none, rivaling Broadway shows and popular television shows, as the church did everything possible to attract the outside world into the church. Concurrently, the megachurch movement of the 1980s and 1990s in American evangelical churches crystallized into huge church clubs with all of the amenities of the secular community offered inside: fitness clubs, cafes and coffee shops, concerts, focus groups, art and craft classes, and so forth.

You may ask, “What is wrong with that? Shouldn’t church be attractive?” Of course, church should be attractive. But, attractional thinking is built on the belief that our primary strategy to win the world should be getting people into church. First, worship was created by God for himself, so we dare not make it first about people. True worship is all about God, glorifying him in ways that ignite us to become his worshiping disciples on mission.

Second, the statistics of decline show us that we cannot win the world with nothing but an attractional approach. We are behind now and falling further behind every day by trying to get the world into church. Yes, there will always be a percentage of churches that show amazing numerical growth. While we affirm and celebrate their growth, we must acknowledge that this will not be the pattern for most churches, especially older churches. After a number of years, fast-growth churches often find themselves facing the same creeping institutionalism and decline as neighboring churches they once ran past.  Sobering thoughts for all of us, aren’t they?   — Mark Powers

PS – Check out the videos listed under Resources in the right hand column titled “Missional Church… Simple” and “Missional Community… Simple” to understand the difference between missional and attractional church.