I had a friend — I’ll call him Bill — who would work out at the gym every day. Whenever we got together, he liked to flex his biceps and say, “Greg, feel this!” Sure enough, Bill’s muscles were rock hard.
Then one day, I heard the terrible news: Bill had died of a heart attack. Even though he appeared healthy and strong on the outside, his heart was diseased. Inwardly, as it turned out, Bill was a weakling.
I am reminded of Bill when I think about the church today. Outwardly, a ministry can seem to be going well, and everything looks promising. But the reality shows a much different story.
What makes a church body grow big doesn’t necessarily make it healthy.
Over the last two decades, we’ve seen a dramatic increase in the number of large churches, including “megachurches” (congregations of 1,000 or more), around the country.
The Lord has certainly blessed Harvest Christian Fellowship, the church that I pastor, with great success and growth. As a result, I’m frequently asked about the methods we’ve used. Is there some kind of church-growth formula that we follow? Can what we do at Harvest be applied to any church, anywhere, with similar results?
I understand these questions and the motivations behind them. Pastors would rather preach to people than to open spaces. And let’s face it, something would be terribly wrong if Christians weren’t interested in seeing churches grow.
But it’s time to take a hard look at what church growth means.
In a magazine article titled “The Myth of Church Growth,” David Dunlap cites some troubling statistics. During the boom period for megachurches, the percentage of Americans who claim to be “born again” has remained constant at about 32%. But Dunlap said that up 80% of the growth in these megachurches has not come from new Christians, but from transfers⎯people moving one church to another.
Dunlap went on to quote C. Peter Wagner, one of the leading spokesmen for the church-growth movement, who admitted, “I don’t think there is anything intrinsically wrong with the church growth principles we’ve developed . . . yet somehow they don’t seem to work.”
I would suggest that one reason why church-growth principles don’t always work is because they tend to treat church as if it were a business. For example, some church growth experts have told pastors that their “customers” no longer attend to commune with God, but to “consume” a personal or family service.
A survey of 1,000 church attenders asked the question, “Why does the church exist?” According to 89% of the responders, the church’s purpose was “to take care of my family’s and my spiritual needs.” Only 11% of them said the purpose of the church was “to win the world for Jesus Christ.”
Those attitudes are a big red flag to me and many others. A business-driven strategy to growing churches will only make things worse. If we train Christians to be consumers instead of communers, we’ll end up with customers instead of disciples. It might fill up a sanctuary or auditorium, but it will never turn the world upside down for Christ.
Now, the last thing I want to do is discourage any person or ministry from heeding God’s call, or cause division in the church. But we need to be careful about limiting the ways God can work, and we also must be aware of how our strategies—even the well-intentioned, statistically valid ones—can actually take us off course and off our real mission⎯reaching the world for Christ.
Over the next few posts, I want to talk about some popular strategies for church growth and how they can actually hurt a church’s health when they are misused.
You may have seen the article in the Christian Post on my message from last Sunday at Harvest. This touches on some of the things I addressed, but there is a lot more as well.
I look forward to seeing you tonight.
In case you missed it, here is the article:
Calif. Pastor Weighs in on Abortion, Homosexuality, Woods’ Buddhism
Southern California pastor Greg Laurie took on some “hot button” issues from the pulpit on Sunday, covering everything from capital punishment and homosexuality to Tiger Woods’ apology.
Commenting on the professed faith of pro golfer Woods, he stated, “Here’s the problem with Buddhism: they don’t believe in a personal God that is there to forgive a person.”
He cited Stephen Prothero, a Boston University professor on Buddhism, who said that in the Buddhist tradition “no matter what Woods says or does, he is going to have to pay for whatever wrongs he’s done.”
“There’s no accountant in the sky wiping sins off your balance sheet, like there is in Christianity.”
Woods on Friday confessed to serial infidelity and said he’ll return to the Buddhist teachings that he drifted away from as he tries to regain his balance on life.
Buddhism, however, does not offer forgiveness, Laurie pointed out. But “Christianity says there is a personal God there to forgive you who sent His son to die on the cross and pay the price for your sins so you can indeed be forgiven.”
The brief comment on the famous public apology served as Laurie’s introduction to his sermon on Christian worldview.
The well-known evangelist believes Christians are often labeled as “bigoted” for expressing their faith or taking a stand on certain issues. One example he cited was when Fox anchor Brit Hume was blasted for suggesting that what Woods really needed was a relationship with Jesus Christ to be forgiven. Amid such persecution, Laurie sought to convey to his congregation the importance of thinking and living biblically and basing their beliefs on what the Bible teaches regardless of what “we feel is right.”
Hitting some of the most controversial and widely debated issues, Laurie asked the congregation not to respond to the hot topics “emotionally” or “logically” but biblically.
Having a biblical worldview means believing that there is a living God and that He has revealed Himself in Scripture, the Harvest pastor explained.
“We accept that we have absolute truth from God,” he said. “The objective is not to conform the Bible to the changing culture but to conform the changing culture to what the Bible teaches.”
On the topic of capital punishment, Laurie pointed to one of the Ten Commandments – thou shalt not kill. The Bible, he said, doesn’t condemn all killing. Self-defense, sometimes war, and capital punishment are justifiable, he said.
“I believe in capital punishment,” Laurie stated, though he acknowledged there are “good people” on both sides of this debate. “And I believe the Bible teaches it.”
Regarding abortion, he stressed that the Bible does not give an unclear word on when life begins.
“Life begins at conception, not at birth,” he stated. “This is absolute. Each child is created by God and should be given a chance to live.”
Indicating a “no exceptions” stand against abortion even if the life of the mother may be in danger, Laurie said just as a mother would instinctively lay her life down if she sees her child about to get hit by a car, she should do the same when it comes to having the baby.
Homosexuality is another clear-cut issue, the evangelist stressed. The Bible is very clear: homosexuality is not in God’s order, he said.
“God is not anti-gay. God is anti-sin no matter how it is expressed,” he stated, adding that people are not born gay.
“I will acknowledge that as a person who is born with a sinful nature you might be attracted to members of the same-sex,” he noted. “I would also acknowledge as a person who is born a sinner you might be more prone to issues of addiction. But having said that, all of these can be overcome by the power of the Holy Spirit.
“You were born a sinner in need of a savior who can change you and help you live the life He has called you to live. That’s the answer.”
“We’re all sinners,” Laurie reminded the congregation. “I’m not standing here today as some pompous preacher looking down on everyone. We’ve all broken God’s commandments in some way shape or form. We all need forgiveness. He offers it graciously and lovingly if we come to Him.”
The “Christian Worldview” sermon series at Harvest kicked off on Feb. 7.
As you read this, I am on my way to “Music City, USA,” Nashville, Tennessee.
I’ve been invited by Steve Berger, a friend of mine who is the pastor of Grace Chapel, a dynamic church that has really grown dramatically. Many find Christ there each year and are faithfully taught the Word of God. Quite a few people from the music industry attend Steve’s church as well.
As it turns out, Steve and I have come to know each other through a couple of common bonds. First, we are both Christians and pastors of churches. Secondly, we have both faced the tragedy of the death of our sons.
Steve’s son Josiah recently went to be with the Lord. We have had hours of fellowship together, encouraging one another, and are both looking to the Lord to make it through each day. This is not something you “get over,” but something you get through, slowly.
Steve recently asked me if I would be open to doing one of our Harvest Crusades events in Nashville. So I am going there with John Collins, the director of Harvest Crusades, to explore the possibilities of that and meet with some pastors there.
Please keep this in prayer, as Nashville is a place where I have always wanted to preach the gospel.
On a side note, Steve sent me some biscuit mix from a legendary local breakfast place in Nashville. I checked out the mix and I have to say, after my son Jonathan got hold of it, we had some pretty amazing biscuits.
Answer: Because those two things are the extent of my culinary skills. No requests from the Food Channel are expected.
Now these biscuits that we made from the special mix from Nashville are not the same caliber of the ones my grandmother from Arkansas, Mama Stella, used to make from scratch, but they’re pretty darn close.
I had some fresh preserves with them as well and loved them, so I plan on checking this restaurant out. I want to see how they taste when they make them. Maybe I will do a video blog from there!
Let’s a see a show of hands. Who wants me to do that?
After we finish in Nashville, we will be off to Chicago to meet with James McDonald and group of pastors who have already extended the initiation for a Harvest Crusades event later this year.
For more info on that, click here.
We are a few months down the road on this great outreach, and we have “all hands on deck,” with our Harvest Crusades team busily praying and working away in the beloved Windy City.
I checked temperatures ahead of time and it looks to be 34 degrees with snow this week. BTW, that is the high temperature! Yikes! That is cold weather for a SoCal boy, so I am taking my warmest coat.
I will be back home Wednesday, ready to speak on “Hot Button Issues” this coming Thursday in Orange County.
This Sunday, we will continue in our new series Worldview: How to Think and Live Biblically, with a message on “Hot Button Issues.”
Some of the things I will say might cause some people to have a knee-jerk reaction. That is because not all believers are seeing the issues of our day through a biblical lens.
In this time of unbiblical thinking, too many people like to use phrases like:
- “I like to think of God as a loving father . . . ”
- “I like to think of God as a nurturing mother . . . ”
- “I like to think of God as a flower . . . ”
- “I like to think of God as . . . whatever.” You fill in the blank.
Whenever people start a sentence with the phrase, “My God . . . ,” trouble usually follows. They say inane things like:
- “My God is all loving and would never judge a person . . . ”
- “My God is forgiving, not wrathful, etc.”
The problem with those kinds of statements is that they are essentially thinking of God as one thing, to the exclusion of something else.
Your god may only be a figment of your imagination
When people say those things, they are breaking the first of the Ten Commandments that warn us to “have no other God” before Him” (Exodus 20). That’s because they are not describing the God of the Bible, but their version of Him.
If you say things like that, you are remaking God in your own image. You are attempting to worship God the way you want Him to be, rather than the way He actually is.
God is . . .
We tend to emphasize the things about God we like, and minimize the rest. Who are you to “edit God?”
According to Scripture, God is both loving and righteous. He is both forgiving and just. He is compassionate and holy.
He does judge sin, and we should be glad that He does. Otherwise, we would never see a final court of arbitration and there would be no justice in this life, or the one to come.
So let’s be thankful that God is exactly who He is, not something we want Him to be. Rather than remake God in my image, I need to be remade in His image.
There is only one God, and that is the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. The God who loved us so much that He sent His Son Jesus to die for our sin.
There is only one Book, and that is the Bible. The debate must start and end there. Otherwise, we are not thinking right, and we do not have a biblical worldview.
What is a biblical worldview?
According to John MacArthur, a biblical worldview is based on two major presuppositions:
The first will be the eternal existence of the personal, transcendent, triune, Creator God. Second, the God of Scripture has revealed His character, purposes, and will in the infallible and inerrant pages of His special revelation, the Bible, which is superior to any other source of revelation or human reason alone.
In short, there is a living God and He has revealed Himself in Scripture.
We as Christians believe that we have absolute truth from God. We develop our Christian worldview from what the Bible teaches. Period.
The goal is not to conform the Bible to an ever-changing culture, but to conform culture to what the Bible teaches.
So join us this Sunday at Harvest for one of our services, or watch the live webcast. Our service times are 7:45 A.M., 9:45 A.M., and 11:45 A.M.
Don’t forget to check out my weekly column at WorldNet Daily by clicking here.
And you can read my long-form weekend devotion by clicking here.
Love is what I will be speaking about tonight in Orange County, California.
We hear a lot today about love from our culture, ranging from songs to movies, etc. But what is love exactly? Many philosophers and others have opined on love over the years.
Plato said that love is a grave, mental disease.
Oliver Wendell Holmes was far more optimistic about love, saying, “Love is the master key that opens the gates of happiness.”
Another said, “Love makes your soul crawl out from its hiding place.”
Even another said, “Love is the only sane and satisfactory answer to the problem of human existence.”
So what exactly is love? The Bible tells us that God is love.
One of the clearest definitions of true love is found in 1 Corinthians 13:
Love never gives up. Love cares more for others than for self. Love doesn’t want what it doesn’t have. . . . Isn’t always “me first” . . . Doesn’t keep score of the sins of others . . . Puts up with anything, Trusts God always, Always looks for the best, Never looks back, But keeps going to the end. (THE MESSAGE)
If you love God,do what He says!
That is a perfect example of God’s love for us! And our love for Him should be a response to that.
The Bible says, “We love Him, because He first loved us” (1 John 4:19). And one of the ways we show that love is through our obedience to Him.
It’s one thing to say, “I love God,” but it’s another to do what he says.
Getting to the very heart of the commandments, Jesus said:
You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your mind and with all your strength. This is the first commandment. And the second is you shall love your neighbor as yourself. There are no other commandments greater than these.
We will continue our look at the Ten Commandments tonight, finishing the first four commandments. I hope you can join us.
In my last post, I talked about how idolatry is alive and well today. The apostle John wrote, “Little children, keep yourselves from idols” (1 John 5:21).
So,what other things can potentially become idols in our lives? Remember, an idol is anyone or anything that takes the place of God in our lives.
Some people worship their own bodies
Some people who worship at the Church of the Perfect Physique. There is never quite enough exercise, weightlifting, running, etc. It can become addicting.
There, of course, is a place for physical exercise, and some Christians could use a lot more of it. As J.Vernon McGee once said, “The only exercise some Christians get is jumping to conclusions and running down others!”
Paul put it in perspective when he wrote to Timothy:
Physical exercise has some value, but spiritual exercise is much more important, for it promises a reward in both this life and the next. This is true, and everyone should accept it. (1 Timothy 4:8-9)
The unobtainable you
Some people become completely obsessed with their appearance, trying to attain some kind of perfection.
Some girls are trying to be something that is not attainable. In a recent survey, 94% of girls under the age of 18 said that they wished they were more beautiful. At the same time, 85% of women over the age of 40 said that they are not as attractive as the average woman.
One reality TV star had 10 plastic surgery procedures done in one day. She is only 23 years old. She said in an interview afterwards, “I am beyond obsessed.”
Again, as with physical exercise, there is a balance here. There is nothing wrong with a Christian girl wanting to be attractive, but she must simply keep her priorities straight.
The right balance
The Bible tells us that girls should be thinking more about their inner beauty than their outer beauty.
The apostle Peter helps us find the balance when he writes:
Don’t be concerned about the outward beauty that depends on fancy hairstyles, expensive jewelry, or beautiful clothes. You should be known for the beauty that comes from within, the unfading beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is so precious to God. (1 Peter 3:3-4)
Let’s keep the Lord at the forefront of our lives, and put the spiritual before the physical. This is what Jesus meant when He said to seek first the Kingdom of God and His righteousness (Matthew 6:33).
In other words, seek God’s rule and reign ahead of anything else in your life.
American Idol is back with a new panelist and an endless list of hopefuls, wanting to be America’s next pop star. Each one competes before the judges, who will decide the winner of the top prize.
I suggest the same is true for us as Christians too. We decide who our God or idol will be.
Make no mistake about it, idols are alive and well in our culture today. We may not call them Dagon, Ashtoreth, Baal, Zeus, or Thor, as people of ancient times did. They may have different names, but we still bow before them.
Everybody has a god
Paul tells us then when we believe in Jesus, we turn away from idols to serve God. The apostle John wrote, “Little children, keep yourselves from idols” (1 John 5:21).
So, what exactly would an idol be today? An idol is anything or anyone that takes the place of God in our lives.
And know this: everybody has a God. Even atheists have a god. It is not the true God, but nonetheless they have a god that they worship and serve.
Believe it or not, idolatry comes naturally to us all. Why? Because we must worship,and we will worship.
Even as nature abhors a vacuum, so does the human soul. The human soul will find an object of worship, either on the shelf, on the altar, in the mirror, or in heaven.
Why? Because we are born idolators.
Why would we trade the living God for some fake one? Because it gives us control!
Albert Mohler, in his book Hearing the Voice of God in the Ten Commandments, wrote this:
We can pick an idol up and we can put an idol down. We can move an idol to this place, and then we can remove it to another place. The idol is at our disposal. We can hide it from our sight, or we can put it in the center of the room. We will devise our own worship because we have devised our own God.
To that, I might add to that we feel we can then live our own way.
So, my question to you is, who or what is your God?
What gets you excited? What gets you out of bed in the morning? What do you think about, dream about, plan for, or perhaps scheme for.
What are you really passionate about? Because that is your God.
I hope your answer is the Lord God and not a false one. Because the Lord can save you, but false gods can’t.
Guys! Don’t forget that this Sunday is Valentine’s Day!
This Sunday, I will speak about what real love is. We will specifically talk about our love for God and how that should express itself.
Jesus said, “If you love me, keep my commandments” (John 14:15). It’s one thing to talk about love, it’s another to show it.
The Ten Commandments
We are in the second part of a new series I am calling Worldview: How to Think and Live Biblically. And we will be wrapping up our look at the first four Commandments.
Have you ever had “another god before the Lord,” or even a “graven image”? What about “taking the Lord’s name in vain”? I suggest to you that those things are done more often than you might think.
Finally, what about the Sabbath? When is it? Are we required as Christians to keep it?
We will talk about all of this and more, this Sunday at Harvest.
Our services are at 7:45 A.M., 9:45 A.M., and 11:45 A.M. And it will also be webcast live at Harvest.org.
How to divorce-proof your marriage
If you get a chance, you may want to check out my column at WorldNetDaily this weekend. I talk about divorce-proofing your marriage.
Here is a quote from that article:
“If you want to have a successful marriage, then read the fine print of what the Bible says. Don’t say your vows until you are ready to live by them. A successful marriage is the result of attention to detail. Every marriage will be tested. And if you let things go, it will begin to unravel.”