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Click here to read archived articles by our former preacher, Jared Hagan.
The Three Signs of A Miserable Church Life (part 3)Wednesday, March 22, 2023
In his book by the same title, Patrick Lencioni highlights The Three Signs of a Miserable Job: anonymity, irrelevance, and immeasurement. While they have a tremendous impact in a work environment, these challenges can do just as much damage among a group of saints. Last week’s article discussed irrelevance; its symptoms and solutions. This week, let’s look at the third of these three signs.
Immeasurement describes the way that many organizations have little or no measurable ways for employees to know if they are succeeding at their tasks or advancing within the team structure. It’s admittedly a little more nuanced than that, depending on the industry and individual organization, but that’s the basic concept.
In a congregation, immeasurement is essentially manifested where there is little or no help for growth. When church leaders and members think that the status quo must be accepted, when they look at talent or spiritual potential as static rather than dynamic, when they settle with the saved and stop seeking out the lost; then church members will feel a sense of immeasurement. That is, they will begin to subtly believe that there is no way to grow, no benefit to growth, and therefore no reason to grow. This line of thought can be so discouraging.
But the New Testament sets a precedent of personal growth that knows no limits. Paul said, “one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus. Let those of us who are mature think this way…” (Phil. 3:13-14) As long as we fall short of Christ’s own perfection, we have room for spiritual growth. This is true of God’s people as individuals and as congregations.
So, consider a few things that can help us overcome this challenge together.
First, believe that you can grow in the Lord. Believing that there’s no hope of anything better is a self-fulfilling prophecy. But if each of us believe that we are capable of more, then we will have the motivation to pursue more.
Second, look for mentors who can guide and teach you, and ask them for their help. Mentoring doesn’t have to be a systematized thing through a church program or effort. Usually, the greatest spiritual growth comes when one person encourages another (remember that Barnabas went and sought out Saul of Tarsus to begin his work as The Apostle Paul [Acts 11:25-26]). Seek out someone who can be your Barnabas and ask them to help you grow.
Third, be ready to step out of your comfort zone. Growth always comes with some discomfort, so expect that to be the case with spiritual growth too.
Fourth, remember that measurable spiritual growth isn’t necessarily accompanied by praise and accolades. But that shouldn’t be the reason that we want to grow spiritually anyway. Jesus instructed us to simply be satisfied with serving God well, even if we aren’t praised for it (cf. Lk. 17:7-10).
Fifth, set the right goals for spiritual growth. Maybe you should set a goal to be qualified as an elder, or to be a blessing like Tabitha was for the early saints, or to improve in your ability to lead in worship, or to be a better teacher to kids, or to be better at reaching out to the lost, or to show hospitality in a better way… In any case, make a plan to grow in some way that will give glory to God. And trust me, your efforts will be noticed, either by God or by man. It will not all be in vain.
If we can all work on these things and encourage each other in them, we’ll find that those discouraging feelings of immeasurement start melting away to make room for ever more joy and fulfillment in Christ and in his church.
- Dan Lankford, minister
The Three Signs of A Miserable Church Life (part 1)Wednesday, March 08, 2023
In his book by the same title, Patrick Lencioni highlights The Three Signs of a Miserable Job: anonymity, irrelevance, and immeasurement. And while they work well as indicators of job fulfillment, the principles also serve as healthy admonitions about the quality of church relationships.
- Anonymity: A person feels that he or she is not known or cared about. Others don’t know them well, don’t ask about them often, and seldom make an effort to understand their life struggles or victories. Others often let social awkwardness or intimidation or other forms of prejudice create distance and prevent close friendships from forming. As a result, they feel like an anonymous presence—not well-known or well-cared-for by their fellow Christians.
- Irrelevance: A person feels that they have little or nothing to contribute. Within the church, they compare themselves to others whose talents are easily observed in assemblies and classes and determine that if their own talents are lesser, then they don’t matter. Because of the way that they hear others talk or see them behave, they come to to feel that the church as a whole would not even notice if they were no longer part of things.
- Immeasurement: Basically, this comes down to a lack of growth or even the opportunity for growth. It happens at work when there are no measurable skills or trackable achievements to indicate success. It happens at church when there is a prevailing belief is people just are who they are and little (or nothing at all) is done to help them grow. People feel immeasurement at church when they aren’t experiencing encouraging fellowship or spiritual leadership that pushes them toward faithful Christian living.
Surely, all of us can understand why problems like these are detrimental to a church family. So what can be done about it? I’d like to take this and the next two midweek articles to offer some solutions.
Anonymity can be fixed by all of us making an effort to get to know others. Getting to know others comes with inherent risks, but those risks are worth taking. We’ve all had awkward interactions with fellow Christians when we don’t know each other, but let’s not let those experiences stop us from trying as we should. Right now, our congregation is growing, but we’re still small enough that we could all know each other well (a blessing that many other congregations don’t have), and so we should work diligently toward that. Don’t settle for just knowing a few people; be a blessing to everyone around you. Risk the potential awkwardness and make sure that no one around you is left feeling unknown or forgotten. And if you’re a person who feels this anonymity… I encourage you to believe that those feelings will fade the more that you help others overcome the same feelings. The better you know them, the better known you will be.
These things can’t be fixed by one person or by a select few. It’s up to all of us as a church. So, ask authentically how others are doing and support them through the life things that they’re experiencing. Show hospitality to other Christians. Learn people’s kids’ names. Learn what talents others have and how they are a blessing in the world. Remember that “church” means people, and remember that being involved in church means being involved with your fellow Christians. And all of us can do that.
Overcoming the signs of a miserable job depends largely on the management team at that job. But overcoming the ‘signs of a miserable church life’ depends on the whole church. The problem of anonymity can creep into our relationships if we aren’t carefully guarding against it. So let’s work together at pouring ourselves out for the good of others, and we’ll see the power of God at work within us to do more than we ask or even imagine.
“Above all, keep loving one another earnestly, since love covers a multitude of sins. Show hospitality to one another without grumbling. As each has received a gift, use it to serve one another, as good stewards of God's varied grace…” (1 Pet. 4:8-10)
- Dan Lankford, minister
Guest Speaker Series w/ Dennis Allan — ReflectionsTuesday, March 07, 2023
I sincerely hope that you enjoyed our time this past weekend with Dennis & Benita Allan. I enjoyed it, and I was greatly encourage by them. Here are just a few of my reflections on the event:
- First, I was encouraged by your interest in the presentation about Brazil on Saturday. It did my heart good to know that so many among us are concerned with the state of the church in other parts of the world. That’s a characteristic of Christians that we share with our earliest brothers and sisters in the faith — the saints from Jerusalem, Corinth, Galatia, and Antioch who sent care and aid to their brothers and sisters at various times all throughout the New Testament. Let’s keep praying for the Allans and for our Brazilian brothers and sisters.
- Second, I was actually encouraged by thinking about how long it can take for God’s kingdom to grow. Hearing our brother describe the wonderful numbers of people who’ve become Bible-believing Christians, and then in the next breath hearing him say that those represent such a tiny fraction of all the contacts that they make, and then hearing the general sense throughout his talk that there is every intention of persevering in the work of discipling the Brazilian people… It all reminded me that we have every reason to be evangelistic—to keep teaching others, even if it seems like we are getting few conversions or little interest. Because the word of God does work to change people’s hearts, and so we—Christ’s faithful ones—will continue to serve him faithfully by sharing the good news over and over and over again. Because it can take a long time for God’s kingdom to grow in this world, but it will grow.
- “You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden. Nor do people light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a stand, and it gives light to all in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.” (Mt. 5:14-16)
- Third, I was tremendously encouraged by the sermons that our brother presented. He pointed us to the word and then humbly stepped aside so that we could see its truth clearly. And more than that, he subtly reminded us of the importance of the whole of God’s word by bringing us lessons from Old Testament passages which we otherwise might rarely contemplate. There are rich lessons to be learned from the moments when someone tears the clothes in the Bible, from the ending(s) of Judges, and from something as simple as the number of ox carts that God assigned to a group. And I’m glad that we had someone to shine the light on those for us.
Now that we’ve all got a little bit more personal connection with the Allans, I hope that you will feel an increased interest in the work that they do and that you will include them regularly in your prayers. If you’d like to share his lessons with others, you can find them on our website. Thanks to our elders for putting together this opportunity for all of us to hear and grow.
- Dan Lankford, minister
Christianity Beyond Our CultureWednesday, March 01, 2023
In the decades just before and after the turn of the twentieth century, Western believers of all types felt a strong urge to teach the gospel all over the world. Mission organizations sprang up, congregations commissioned members to go overseas and plant churches, and religious colleges poured vast amounts of energy and funding into training missionaries.
And throughout that era, many hymns were written give voice to Christians’ passion for turning the world upside down (cf. Acts 17:6). Many of these hymns are still sung among Churches of Christ. A few examples: The Gospel Is For All (1921), Bringing In The Sheaves (1874), If Jesus Goes With Me (1908), and Send the Light (1890). The last one in that list has a meaningful connection to the apostle Paul’s calling to bring the gospel to Macedonia (cf. Acts 16:6-10). Coupling the account from Acts with the lyrics of the hymn reminds us that the world needs help. ALL people—both near and far—need the gospel because we need God to save us from our sins.
This weekend, we’re going to hear our brother Dennis tell how our Christian family members in Brazil are living out their mission to share the truth of the Word in their country. As we listen to presentations like these, we would do well to think about more than just the cultural differences that we will inevitably notice between our lives and theirs. We sometimes tend toward thinking that our fellow saints live lesser lives if they live in poverty or if their cultural norms are different than ours. But we need to remember that the richness of faith in Christ is not determined by any level of wealth, education, comfort, or modernization. The Gospel didn’t come first among American culture, and there are plenty of people who are living it out richly (in many cases, more richly than we are) in their own varied cultures around the world today. We need to remember that the higher realities of salvation, fellowship, and holiness are true beyond the scope of time and place and culture. On Saturday, we’ll be hearing about people who are our brothers & sisters—people who share our faith. And we will do well to be grateful for [and often to learn from] their example of love for our Lord and faithfulness to him.
Let’s pray for our brothers and sisters in other countries that they will continue to grow and thrive in their faith. Let’s pray the same things for us. And let’s be sure to think with the higher ideals of Christians as we do that. We’re looking forward to hearing about the Christian mission to share the Gospel of Christ in Brazil, and it’s my prayer that we are aware of how powerfully God works when his people send the light.
- Dan Lankford, minister
Comprehensive PreachingSunday, February 12, 2023
“How do you come up with fresh sermons week after week?” “How do you decide what to speak on?” “Is there some sort of template or guideline for what subjects or passages to preach about?”
It’s kind of surprising how often churchgoers ask questions like those to their preachers. I think part of the reason is that they’re just curious about the nature of the job. But for those who really think about it, there’s an opportunity for deep spiritual thinking in that question.
The content of gospel preaching matters a great deal, because our job is to accurately represent God’s will for humanity. Sometimes, that requires sermons that are more evangelistic—helping people get saved. At other times, churchgoers need to hear messages that help them live faithfully and make good moral choices as Christians. Other times, it’s got to be about eternal truths that transcend daily life and transcend time itself—things like the nature of God and the supreme importance of truth in reality. So how do you do it all?
The complexity of it means that there ought to be vision and forethought and prayer as these things are being planned. But the simplicity of it lies in 1) always drawing from the infinite well of wisdom in God’s word, and 2) trusting God to use our efforts to bring him glory.
Paul was diligent to present “the whole counsel of God” during his ministry at Ephesus, and we ought to do the same whenever possible. God’s plan is both deep and wide, and as his people, we ought to be continually drawing nearer to a comprehensive understanding of the whole Gospel.
- Dan Lankford, minister
*This essay was published in our Sunday Family Report as accompaniment to the sermon: "How To Get Saved." That message talks about the Biblical idea of "faith" in similar terms [i.e. "comprehensive"] to how this article talks about preaching.
Better Before BiggerWednesday, January 18, 2023
All of the company’s senior executives were at the board room table, and they were discussing how they could outpace the growth of a competitor. The competitor had surged into their industry and was expanding rapidly, opening multiple new locations every month and on trend to vastly out-sell them. And so the board members were intent on growing bigger before their competitor could. Until the CEO spoke up. Having sat quietly at the far end of the room for awhile, he started banging his fist on the table until he had everyone’s attention, and then he said simply, “I don’t want to hear about how to make this company bigger. I want us to talk about how to make it better. If we get better, customers will demand we get bigger.”
The wisdom in that simple statement is profound, and it applies in some way to every human enterprise, whether we have customers or not. And it’s true of a church too. If we continually try to make it better, it will bet bigger. If our Bible classes offer rich insights into the Word and relevant guidance for life, people will see the value in that and come to hear it. If our group worship leads them to open their hearts individually to powerfully perceive God’s glory, they will see the value in that and come to experience it. If our preaching enlivens people’s minds and invigorates their hearts to want to serve God better, they will understand the value of that and come to hear it. If our fellowship demonstrates the power and joy of relationships, outreach, generosity, and brotherly love; they will perceive the value of that and engage with it too.
That’s why church growth is always primarily about spiritual growth. It’s about us continually getting better at what we do to serve God, and a group that does that will inevitably grow. It worked that way in the first century, and I believe that it still will today.
“But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.” (Matt. 6:33)
- Dan Lankford, minister
Quiet Quitters, At Work & At ChurchWednesday, November 30, 2022
Have you heard the term "quiet quit"? Articles and advice columns on the 'phenomenon' (I use that term very loosely) of quiet quitting are popping up on business websites, blogs, and newspapers everywhere. And research organizations are busy analyzing and quantifying it. The term has even gone viral on TikTok.
Basically, that's become the modern term for doing the bare minimum requirements when you're on the job. The phrase cleverly labels the behavior or a person who might as well quit because they're no longer going for anything better or more noble than the lowest level. They've checked out of the possibility of growth or advancement or helping others, and now they're just getting by and getting paid.
That problem on the job is at least as old as the New Testament, because the apostle Paul admonished our brothers in Colossae with these words: "obey in everything those who are your earthly masters, not by way of eye-service, as people-pleasers, but with sincerity of heart, fearing the Lord. Whatever you do, work heartily, as for the Lord and not for men" (Col. 3:22-23). We need to make sure that we are learning from Paul's words; that we aren't "quiet quitters" at work. Whether or not it garners any payoff in the workplace, we ought to work as if it's for Christ. And if our work is for him, then it needs to be our very best.
There's also the potential problem of "quiet quitting" on a group of God’s people, and this is a temptation that Christians everywhere face at different points in life, whether they're new to faith or seasoned veterans in the Lord's army. Whatever the reasons, they come to do the bare minimum to remain on the membership of a congregation, but they show no more signs of involvement than that. They don't make connections with other Christians, they attend sporadically, they keep to themselves, they read their Bible infrequently, they know few names their Christian family members, and they turn down invitations to special gatherings like potlucks (or, on the flip side, they only show up for potlucks... kinda funny; kinda not). Churches everywhere have members like this, who do only the bare minimum to remain on the membership.
Having put it in those terms, church starts to seem like the place in life where quiet quitting may be the most prevalent.
So what's to be done about it? What are the remedies? Here are two quick thoughts:
- First, it’s up to every individual; take ownership and decide not to be a quiet quitter. Find a way to GROW, engage, develop yourself and others. If our answer is, "I can't help anyone, I'm too deep into my own problems," then that is all the more reasons to reach out and engage, because someone in the church can help you. Wherever you are starting from, all of us can move toward deeper engagement and stronger fellowship. Everyone has something to offer to someone else. The Holy Spirit said, "Having gifts that differ according to the grace given to us, let us use them..." (Rom. 12:6)
- Second, it’s up to the leaders to develop a culture of engagement: a place where people have opportunities to build others up (and not just in the assemblies), to see and encourage potential for growth among all, to build authentic connections, and to know that they are valued. The Proverbs writer advised: "Know well the condition of your flocks" (Prov. 27:23), which means that leaders need to be well-connected and well-informed and continually praying for their church members in order to enfold and engage them in fellowship of saints that we are.
The research that’s out there is good for workplaces: It’s so nice when all the elements of an engaging culture are present at work. But especially in a church, people ought to be able to find a vibrant, engaging culture in the group—a place where they know they are valued and where they freely and enthusiastically share that unique value with others.
What can YOU do to make that culture stronger and make sure that no one is quiet quitting on Christ's people at Northside?
- Dan Lankford, minister
Looking Back & Reaching ForwardWednesday, August 24, 2022
In Acts 20:17-38, the Apostle Paul spoke with the elders of the church in Ephesus. In what they knew would be their last conversation, he advised them about their future as church leaders, and he reminded them of how they started. Books could be written about the inspired guidance given in that short text, but for today, just consider Paul's approach of addressing both the past and the future at a crucial turning point. There's obviously a lot of wisdom in that approach, as evidenced by the many other Bible leaders did the same thing (Jacob, Moses, Joshua, Samuel, David). They understood the wisdom of humbly thanking God for his past & present blessings and entrusting themselves to his goodness with a positive outlook on the future.
As a church family, we're at a turning point. God has shown his goodness to this congregation for the past two and a half decades, and we would do well to be immensely grateful. From the time that Northside was founded, we have grown, changed, seen members and leaders come and go, moved to new worship venues, reached new people with the Good News, faced and overcome challenges, and maintained faithfulness to God through prayer and the ministry of the word. And who is to be commended for all of that? Our long-timers, those who came before us, our preacher and our elders, parents & grandparents who teach the faith to their young ones, and above all the Spirit of God who has taught and guided and blessed. All glory belongs to God.
And as we look forward from this crucial turning point, I truly believe that God will continue to be with us if we continue our work of service to him. If we pray, if we "hold up the book," if we care about each other, and if we teach the lost about Jesus; he will continue to give us renewed spiritual life and growth in numbers. And when that happens, all glory will still belong to God.
So I encourage you to make time for sincere prayer in these coming weeks. The Hagans have just three weeks left here. Let's tell God how genuinely thankful we are for their influence, teaching, and loyalty these many years. And I would ask you to pray earnestly for me and my family for the next several weeks, that I will faithfully fulfill the ministry that God has given to teachers of his people.
We're looking back and reaching forward; all for God's glory.
"Finally, brothers, pray for us, that the word of the Lord may speed ahead and be honored, as happened among you." (2 Thess. 3:1)
- Dan Lankford, minister
Big churches or small ones?Wednesday, July 13, 2022
How big is the ideal church?
Have you ever debated that question with a friend? Have you ever considered it yourself? There are two schools of thought that I've heard a lot: 1) A big church is better because you have more people who can get more stuff done and help each other better, or 2) A small church is better because everyone knows everyone else. So which is better? Biblically, there's no answer given. And as I read through the book of Acts, I think I know why God's Spirit is not concerned much with big churches vs. small churches.
Because the Lord is concerned that his churches are growing.
As you look at the book of Acts, there are a few times when church membership numbers are given (Acts 2:41, 4:4). But in searching for those, you'll find plenty more references to how much the disciples were growing. They grew in number, they increased in boldness, they bolstered their fellowship with each other, they expanded their generosity, they pushed out the borders of their influence, and they enhanced their reputation in the community. They were growing in so many positive ways.
Growth is an indicator of healthy churches in all of time. Now please don't misunderstand: all growth requires change, but not all change is growth (we'll discuss that more in future writings). But churches that are not growing are stagnant or in decline. On the other hand, when a church's leaders and members are filled with God's Spirit and following his word, we are bound to be growing in him, and that will always be reflected in our numbers, our fellowship, our influence, our generosity, and our evangelism.
So I pray that each of us has a mindset that we want to foster an environment of growth in this church family. I pray that we all see the glory which that brings to God when his people are growing up into his image. And I pray that whether we are a small church or big church, we will always be a growing church as we worship and serve him.
- Dan Lankford, minister