Spiritual Affluenza: The subtle work of darkness on our consumer-centered souls

The typical American Christian is suffering from "affluenza"

If you're not familiar with this term, you've probably not watched US news lately (not that it's all that great and worth watching, by the way!). There's a kid whose accused of murder and his attorney's case is built on the fact that his well-to-do parents gave him everything he wanted and expected nothing from him. He is claiming that this young man is suffering from a bad case of affluenza and he should not be held responsible for his irresponsible behavior.

When I look at the consumer-centric model of Western church life today, it smacks of spiritual affluenza. The church leadership and the big services do all the work of ministry for the members, and all they need to do is be a faithful volunteer and keep the engine running smoothly with some money from their paycheck.

The level of ownership of the Gospel of Jesus Christ and sharing that Gospel message is definitely something every small groups pastor and lead pastor wants the members of their small groups to do... but they don't grab the baton and run with it. After a lot of hard work and probably a corporate push with a church-wide campaign, the leaders are left scratching their heads over why every effort to educate and mobilize small group members falls short.

I know I'm harping on various aspects of the big-box church in America, but it's where a majority of people are finding a affluenza-infested relationship with a church and God that doesn't require much. This is creating a house of cards that won't stand up to persecution, which is coming.

If you're reading this, don't let your small group members think that showing up is good enough. Ask each person who they are praying for to receive Christ and how often they're praying for that person and spending quality time with them. Be the "pebble in their shoe" to do what every believer should do naturally!

American Churches: Why aren't your members personally reaching friends for Christ?

A few weeks back I asked a pointed question about relational evangelism on the Facebook page for small group leaders, hosted by one of the most prominent small group pastors and authors in the nation. He's not in the cell group stream, but the small group stream. I know this man and have a lot of respect for him and the church where he pastors. They water baptize small group members every single Sunday after services and have a solid discipleship pathway for new believers to follow. So I was hoping that this Facebook page would be filled with other small groups pastors who were replicating the health I see in his church.

I was careful to craft my question by asking if any of the 2000+ small group point persons who represent that page were seeing relational evangelism going on in their small groups and considered this "normal or ordinary" behavior (versus something that happened now and then or was extra-ordinary).

I clarified my question by stating that I was not referring "bring a friend Sunday" programs or inviting friends to big church services (not that there's anything wrong with this and I hope your church is doing it). I just wanted to get down to brass tacks: Are there any U.S. churches where relational evangelism is the way the local church is growing, verses crowd evangelism efforts?

After two days of zero responses, I replied to my own question, asking if the silence on the subject was as deafening to everyone else as it was to me. One small groups pastor replied saying they would love for this to be the norm, but it's not happening despite their best efforts on a leadership level.

It's not as if no one uses this Facebook page
Posts are made daily asking about campaigns that work best, training for hosts, best ways to get the visitors and congregations to sign up for a group, etc. And many others are answering them. But ask a question about relational evangelism and it's as if someone cut off the power to every small group pastor's laptop in the nation!

America, we have a problem!
First, we saw lots of smaller churches close their doors or become satellite locations for megachurches with a shiny lead pastor and his incredible way with words when on a mic in the pulpit. Then we saw most every megachurch look, feel, sound, smell, and taste the same no matter which denomination they belong to or where they're located as they copied what others were doing that was so attractive and retentive.

The hallmark of these big multi-site churches is being very good at pleasing the consumer Christian (if I may use this oxymoron). They've got amazing programs for children and youth and lots of self-help and self-improvement programs, which aren't bad in and of themselves. They just seem to keep people from seeing their primary purpose on earth front and center: to magnify the Lord Jesus Christ to everyone around them and anyone who will listen!

If you're reading this, for the love of God, help your small group members learn how to be a friend and reach a friend for Christ and disciple that person! This must become our driving passion in small group and cell group ministry in this country!

Small Group Losers vs. Team-based Winners

 I found this picture online from a sports locker room and thought it was worth sharing.

Assembling Christians into small groups where they're encouraged to love one another and love God but not challenged to become a team who reaches their world for Christ and disciples them to do the same is futile.

If group members don't make the shift from small group to team, the group will always degrade into a complacent complaining group of entitled people who say they love God but make no sacrifice to show Him they really do.

Don't let your groups become losers, and whatever you do, don't launch groups that have no choice but to become losers because they have no missional reason to be together! Be a good coach and challenge them to be winners. Will they get mad and tell you you're being pushy? Probably. But people are dying without Jesus every single minute of the day and we can do something about it as pastors over small groups of believers meeting in homes.

Understanding God: The Importance of Old Testament Studies

In our newish house church experience, we've decided to make the Old Testament a focus of our Sunday mornings together. Most of the people in our group (including my wife and I) spent a lot of time applying NT scripture to our lives at the expense of the OT stories, so it's exciting for everyone to learn from the "left side of the Bible."

One of our greatest take-aways from reading through Genesis and Exodus (which took about 10 months) was God's perspective on man, his most important creation on earth. Because God has the ability to see a man's existence from before birth straight through to eternity after earthly death (referring to His omnipresence, omniscience, omnipotence)...

He is able to make very just decisions such as giving followers extra grace (ie., Abraham) or raining fire down upon them and killing every man, woman, child, and animal (as in Sodom and Gomorrah).

God hates sin, but it's a fruit issue and it's treated as such. What he seems to be even more concerned about in the heart and mind of His creation (man) is idolatry, the root of the sin problem. When man decides his idea of right and wrong is better than God's clearly articulated way of living for our best health and welfare, the aforementioned rain of fire is definitely in the weather forecast!

He views a lot of our earthly problems in the same way a loving parent comforts a child upset that they cannot eat candy before dinner because it will spoil their appetite for healthy food. The suffering I may experience here on earth will be but a sneeze in the big picture of my eternal life in Christ, and for that, He may choose not to heal someone on earth because it's but a sneeze no matter how big of a deal we think it might be.

The Trinity has always existed. Christ is seen throughout Genesis and Exodus!!! Lots of my house church peeps didn't fully grasp this until I showed them. Same with the Holy Spirit. All working as one to reconcile man to God.

He has created us all, but we are not all "God's Children." That would be automatic salvation and we must request to be adopted into His family through Christ. While this is a NT thing, we saw clearly that God's chosen people needed a Messiah in the worst way and still need to recognize that God provided one! No one can keep the basic ten commandments nor the thousands of Jewish laws.

When we start up our mid-week cell groups, it will be our New Testament focus. The Christ within me will minister to the Christ within you. This is happening ad-hoc now with time spent together, but it will be formalized in 2016.

This was an interesting thing to realize: Sunday mornings are OT and mid week groups are NT. Same God, different expression and experience!

I can see clearly now!

For 20 years I've served as the President of TOUCH Outreach Ministries. Through those years, some amazing people worked at and with TOUCH. Together we created resources to fill gaps in the knowledge base for cell groups and for all the discipleship needs for members and training needs for group leaders. Around 2010, I realized most everything the ministry needed to provide pastor and churches was in print from our ministry or other ministries or publishers.

This left me with a lot of time on my hands. With a lot of prayer, I decided to do some tent making and serve others in the financial services industry. I've been at it full time now for four years, and boy-howdy, do I have a better understanding of what we're asking of people when we encourage them to not only be a part of a cell group but lead one. I can see clearly now.

Just before I took on outside work, Etna and I started a house church. At this point it's not a high maintenance church plant. We're small enough to meet in our home on Sunday mornings and enjoy each other's company between meetings and minister to one another on an ad-hoc basis. When we grow a little more, we'll start gender-based cell groups that meet mid week. A group has already popped up spontaneously by a member who lives quite a ways away and has friends who aren't committed enough to make the drive in on Sundays to our place.

I visited his group this last week. After a long and somewhat frustrating day at the office, I zipped home for a quick bite to eat, played with the dogs for a few minutes and headed out the door. 45 minutes in traffic to arrive 5 minutes late. We had a great time together, applying a couple of chapters of the book of Acts and prayed for one another. Then I made the trip home and collapsed at 10 pm.

If I had kids in the house, I can only imagine how challenging it would be to attend a mid-week group, let alone lead one! If there was ever a reason to design your cell group leadership structure with multiple leadership (3-4 co-leaders in a group with one serving as the group's point person) this would be it.

Group-based ministry in major metropolitan areas like Houston is tough on the participants. Anything we can do to design holistic groups to keep the fatigue level down is going to be critical to success.