Revitalize Your Church With These 3 Biblical Principles
I have planted two churches, resurrected an empty building, and brought healing to a church that went through a pastoral failure. In all of these cases, I learned that to revitalize your church; I needed to focus on three critical biblical principles: Love, acceptance, and forgiveness.
The desire to bring love, acceptance, and forgiveness to churches has always been a passion of mine. It was birthed in my early years of being a Christian where I saw the what I have come to call, the “guarantee of love” in action first hand.
I was sitting in my chair at church. We had just finished the worship segment, and Pastor Jerry was getting ready to start speaking. All of a sudden he looked towards the back of the church, unplugged his lavalier microphone which made a loud cracking sound; bounded off the platform and rushed to the back of the church to hug a couple who had entered late.
I thought to my self, “Wow, they must be old friends of Pastor Jerry’s in from out of town.
I was dead wrong.
The man and his wife were sobbing.
The man who entered the church was the former pastor of a church in our community who had fallen into sexual immorality, destroyed his family and ended up in divorce. The woman with him was his new wife who was the woman he had fallen into sin with.
What I didn’t know was that over 10% of our congregation used to attend this man’s church.
What I didn’t know is that they had called ahead to ask if they could come to church. (They had been rejected by numerous churches before)
What I didn’t know was that my pastor had committed to loving people unconditionally.
What I did know was that I saw love in action! It changed my life, and it changed theirs.
The man and his wife spent hours working through the process of restoration, crying and repenting and rebuilding what was lost. It would never have happened if my pastor had not given people the guarantee of love.
The Guarantee Of Love
The minimal guarantee we must make is that we will love them—always, under every circumstance, with no exceptions.
My pastor later went on to write a book about what we saw happen at Easthill Church. What happened changed innumerable lives.
It had a lasting impact on me.
Read this verse in the book of 1 John.
1 John 3:14 New Living Translation (NLT)
14 If we love our brothers and sisters who are believers, it proves that we have passed from death to life. But a person who has no love is still dead.
Many people would point to their “born-again” experience, or responding to an altar call, or praying a prayer as proof that they have become a Christian. I remember the night I prayed my prayer. It was transformational.
However, that is not what the scripture says is the proof that we have passed from death into life. The scripture says that it is our love for one another.
Jesus put it this way.
Your love for one another will prove to the world that you are my disciples.”
The proof that we are followers of Jesus is not our doctrine, our church affiliation, or the fact that we prayed a prayer or shook a preachers hand. The proof is whether or not we love one another.
That day, to the dismay of many who had been hurt by this man and to the religious leaders in our community, Pastor Jerry modeled our proof that we were followers of Jesus.
In my ministry, I had a similar experience.
I had just arrived to start my new pastorate in Pine Haven Wyoming. The church there had just gone through a painful experience where town politics got emotions to run high, and people had been wounded.
The former mayor of the town was a believer and had pushed through a sewer system project that was not popular. He and many of his friends had been made to feel unwelcome at the church.
Within a couple of weeks of my arrival, he came to the church to see if I was going to welcome him. He was by far the most hated man in the community.
I welcomed him with open arms that Sunday. It was not 20 minutes after I arrived home that day that I had people driving up my driveway to explain to me why he was unwelcome.
I smiled at them and explained to them the guarantee of love.
Unfortunately, they didn’t get it. However, the town did!
Not more than a month later, two of the most notorious town drunks came to the church and gave their lives to Jesus!
If the most hated man in town were welcome at the Vineyard in Pine Haven, then they would be welcome also. It revitalized that church, and it will revive your church too!
The Commitment Of Love
Pastor Jerry used to do something that was a powerful illustration of the commitment of love. He used to ask somebody to stand up, usually somebody that he didn’t know and say this to them.
“I want you to know that I’m committed to you. You’ll never knowingly suffer at my hands. I’ll never say or do anything, knowingly, to hurt you. I’ll always in every circumstance seek to help you and support you. If you’re down and I can lift you up, I’ll do that. Anything I have that you need, I’ll share with you; and if need be, I’ll give it to you. No matter what I find out about you and no matter what happens in the future, either good or bad, my commitment to you will never change. And there’s nothing you can do about it. You don’t have to respond. I love you, and that’s what it means.”
There have been times that I have done the same thing. It is powerful, and he meant it, and I do as well.
The Greek word for love is agape. It means this.
|1.of persons1. To welcome, to entertain, to be fond of, to love dearly2. Of things1.to be well pleased, to be contented at or with a thing|
The definition we need to use is the one about people. We need to love people dearly. We need to love them as God has loved us.
We all know the verse found in John 3:16. What we sometimes forget is that love is not just a feeling. It is more than that. If it was just a feeling then John 3:16 might read something like this.
“For God so loved the world that He sat up in heaven with warm fuzzy feelings.”
Aren’t you glad it doesn’t read like that?
God’s type of love starts with action which then leads to feelings. It begins with giving.
This is much different than the type of love the world operates in. The world is always looking for love to be reciprocated. God gave His Son knowing full well that many in the world would not return His love.
As a church both locally and as a church globally we need to love first then move to an acquaintance. We choose to love them; then we get to know them.
One of my favorite quotes by another man who greatly influenced my life goes like this.
“Love one another’ is easy when you’re watching television. But when you have to go do things with people—some you don’t even like, much less love—that’s where the rubber meets the road.” – John Wimber
If we are not willing to love people, even when they are not very lovable, then they will never trust us enough to speak into the deep things in their life. We destine our relationship with them to be very shallow.
If we are not willing to love sinners, including those saved by grace and those not yet saved by grace, then they will never allow us to lead them to the one who can change everything in their lives. They will never let us lead them to Jesus. If you choose to love sinners, then it will revitalize your church.
Love Is Not License
You should have heard the accusations we got at Easthill Church when we loved on that fallen pastor. They accused us of looking like we condoned his sin. They charged us of being soft on sin.
They said we would have every broken down failed pastor and leader coming to our church.
They were right!
It is a very narrow and blinded mindset that equates loving on people with condoning what they do. That mindset has an understanding of love that is warped because love does the opposite of condoning sin. It stands in the way of sin.
You see love always strives for the highest good of the person, not the lowest acceptable behavioral level.
Love commits itself to another’s highest good. So instead of just trying to figure out what is acceptable for them to do, you work towards their highest good.
That is what Jesus did. He placed our highest good as His priority and did what none of us could do to demonstrate that love. He died for our highest good!
So when dealing with a fallen leader love does not condone their sin but instead works towards bringing them back into right relationship with God and gets them back on track with the plans and purposes of God.
You see the plans and purposes of God are pretty simple when you think about it.
God has predestined us to be conformed to the image of Jesus. We are to be like Him. So love encourages and leads people to become more like Him.
For God knew his people in advance, and he chose them to become like his Son, so that his Son would be the firstborn among many brothers and sisters.
Not only does love place a person’s highest good as a priority, but it also does what it can to prevent their harm.
Think of it this way.
Do you remember the scene in Thelma And Louise where they go flying off the cliff?
If you were on the edge of that cliff and were waving to them and saying “I love you!” was that love?
Of course not!
Love would have stood in front of the car trying to prevent them from doing what they were about to do!
I don’t know how many teenage kids I have talked to that disrespect their parents. They despise their parents because their parents do not behave in ways that cause their kids to respect them including demanding their respect.
People who know me know I am probably one of the easiest going pastors they have ever met. Not much ruffles my feathers.
However, they get a shock when they disrespect me with their behavior or words. All of a sudden I become unbending and inflexible as hardened steel.
Because love demands that I stand in front of their car as they rush headlong into behavior that is going to be destructive in their life.
The same goes for sexual immorality, backbiting, gossip, and sowing strife. It is not God’s highest good for them to behave in any of those ways and all of those things and many more are severely destructive to a person.
Love wants the best. Love desires wholeness. Love wants people to be conformed into the image of Christ.
There needs to be absolute love for people but zero tolerance for destructive behavior.
That is why the church needs to give the guarantee of love to everyone who comes into their life. If you provide that guarantee, it will revitalize your church.
Why People Need The Guarantee Of Acceptance At Your Church
With the current political and cultural climate in the U.S., many people will assume that when I talk of acceptance, I am talking about affirmation or agreement.
Nothing can be farther from the truth. As Rick Warren put it.
“Our culture has accepted two huge lies. The first is that if you disagree with someone’s lifestyle, you must fear or hate them. The second is that to love someone means you agree with everything they believe or do. Both are nonsense. You don’t have to compromise convictions to be compassionate.”
Take a trip with me down memory lane if you will.
Imagine a 16-year-old boy in High School who was well on his way to becoming an alcoholic; was using drugs on a weekly basis; and who was a self-professed atheist.
Imagine if you will, a 15-year-old girl that grew up in a Christian home; went to church Sunday Morning, Sunday Night, and Wednesday Night Youth Group.
Imagine if you will, that 16-year-old boy is asking that 15-year-old girl to go out with him on a date.
What would be the typical response?
If your first instinct was to say that she should reject him, then your response is the typical response. But what did she do?
“I will think about it if you go to church with me.”
And right now you can thank God that she did because if she hadn’t then this page would be blank.
So walk with me for a few minutes and allow me to share with you the reason that you need to have a culture of acceptance in your church.
What Is The Guarantee Of Acceptance
The second guarantee is that we will accept them totally, without reservation.
I shared with you how my first pastor impacted my life with three guarantees. They were the guarantee of love, the guarantee of acceptance and the guarantee of forgiveness.
The guarantee of acceptance is probably the one that the church struggles with the most. I believe the reason that this is the case is that the church still struggles with God’s acceptance of us individually.
How can we accept others when we are trying to earn God’s acceptance for ourselves? We have a mindset that inhibits our ability to walk in acceptance. Take a look at this verse.
Ephesians 1:6 New King James Version (NKJV)
6 to the praise of the glory of His grace, by which He made us accepted in the Beloved.
There was a time in my life where I seriously considered giving up. It seemed as though the whole world was against me. However, it was during this time that God started revealing some crucial truths to me.
I was driving a truck and was not in pastoral ministry at the time. I was trying to rebuild my life after divorce.
As I was driving, I heard the still small voice of Jesus in my heart, and He asked me some very poignant questions. The first question went like this.
“Duke, how much do I love you?”
I responded with what I knew in my head to be true. “You love me unconditionally Lord.”
He then responded with a question that made that truth go deep into my heart.
“Then why do you hate what I love?”
I was stunned. I sat in silence and as the truth of His words sunk deep into my heart. I hated myself. Hating how my life had turned out. Hating how I had failed. Hating how I was such a mess. (All of this after having given my life to Jesus for 20 years and having previously been in pastoral ministry for 10.)
He then asked me the second question.
“Duke, how much do I accept you?”
Again my response was from my head. “I am accepted in the Beloved Lord.
Once again, which I have found is typical of how the Lord speaks to me in my heart, He responded with a question.
“Then why do you reject what I have accepted?”
By that point, I was a blubbering mess. I had to pull over and weep.
I had been a Christian for 20 years and had never realized that I WAS accepted. I was always trying to be accepted.
That one truth changed the direction of my life, and you are reading this because of that divine intervention. If your people get that revelation, it will revitalize your church.
What Is Acceptance?
In that verse I shared with you on the last page, the word accepted is the word Charitoo. It means
to make graceful
charming, lovely, agreeable
to peruse with grace, compass with favor
to honor with blessings
When God accepted us in Christ, He peruses (views) us with grace. He pours out His favor. He honors us with His blessings. That is the unfathomable degree that we have been accepted by Him!
Let me share with you another verse. I am going to use the Contemporary English Version of this verse that will show you what I am getting at.
Romans 8:33 Contemporary English Version (CEV)
33 If God says his chosen ones are acceptable to him, can anyone bring charges against them?
When the young girl from High School told me that she would consider dating me if I went to church with her, she was showing God’s acceptance. She didn’t agree with my lifestyle. She didn’t affirm that it was OK to be a druggie. She was showing the heart of God that He would accept me where I was at.
Does anybody remember the old hymn called “Just As I Am?”
Just as I am – without one plea,
But that Thy blood was shed for me,
And that Thou bidst me come to Thee,
-O Lamb of God, I come!
The Commitment Of Acceptance
There are multitudes of people that have gone to the church and found rejection instead of acceptance. I thank God that the church I found in my youth was not that way.
I would go to church with my long hair, necklaces around my neck, jeans with holes in them, and they accepted me. They loved me. One couple even went so far as to buy me some nice church clothes! God bless them.
I had no clue that was what they were doing. I didn’t know you had to be dressed up to go to church! LOL (You don’t, but they were trying to love me all the same.)
The fact remains that I am where I am today because people accepted that I was clueless about Christianity, Church, and living for Jesus. They chose to love and accept me regardless.
This allowed me the time and grace to learn. It allowed me to feel secure enough to share that I was struggling to stop doing drugs and ask for prayer. It allowed me to feel safe enough to ask questions when I didn’t understand something. I could ask because I knew I was accepted regardless.
The church needs to come to a place where it decides that it is going to love and accept people no matter what. And if people are not going to act that way, then they should join a mutually exclusive club somewhere else!
Unreserved acceptance of people needs to become our habit. Christians have been notorious for shooting their wounded and promoting exclusivity. That has to stop!
People will never trust us to allow us to get close enough to them to help them with their deepest needs otherwise. When we allow acceptance to become our commitment and our cultural norm, then they will instinctively open up to us because they will know they can trust us.
Because we are accepted in the Beloved, we must always be accepting of the beloved. We cannot give up on people until God does and we all know that He never will!
I do not believe that God gives up on one single solitary human soul, Christian or not. Neither can we. If you start showing the same character that God has shown, it will revitalize your church.
Now you might say, well what about their lifestyle or their behavior?
Acceptance Is Not Affirmation
We all need to understand something.
We are all predestined to become like Jesus. That is God’s plan for our lives.
For God knew his people in advance, and he chose them to become like his Son, so that his Son would be the firstborn among many brothers and sisters.
Just a few verses down from where it talks about God accepting us, it tells us that we are all chosen to become like Jesus.
So let me ask you a question. Are you there yet?
Just because we accept a person does not mean we agree or affirm what they are doing. I have yet to meet a person who has arrived at being totally like Jesus. I have yet to meet a person whose behavior is perfect.
When we accept a person, we are giving them the same gift that God gives them; a gift of significance. They are precious in God’s eyes, and so they are precious in ours.
During the mid-80’s my uncle came out of the closet. He announced that he was homosexual. I accepted that was where he was at. He knew, and everyone else knew that I didn’t agree with his choice of lifestyle. I was saddened.
That doesn’t mean I went around railing about how much of a sinner he was. I didn’t publicly mention it. I had more than one discussion with my uncle. The one thing he knew was that I loved and accepted him.
Every time I saw him, I hugged his neck and took an interest in what was going on with him. I never rejected him as a person.
20 years later, God started working on his heart; dealing with the rejection issues he had as a boy growing up. He repented (changed direction) and left the homosexual lifestyle and chose to surrender his sexual behavior to the lordship of Jesus.
He has lived a celibate life since.
My uncle was always significant to God. He was always loved by God. God still accepted where my uncle was at. He didn’t accept that He had to stay there.
He doesn’t accept that we have to stay where we are either. Whether it is gluttony, backbiting, unforgiveness, or greed that is our sinful weakness, God wants all of us to become conformed to the image of Jesus.
If people confuse our acceptance of people where they are at with affirmation, then that is a sign that we do not live very distinctive lives. If our lives show our values, then there can be no confusion.
Take a look at this famous passage in the scriptures and tell me if there is any confusion.
John 8 New Living Translation (NLT)
A Woman Caught in Adultery
8 Jesus returned to the Mount of Olives, 2 but early the next morning he was back again at the Temple. A crowd soon gathered, and he sat down and taught them. 3 As he was speaking, the teachers of religious law and the Pharisees brought a woman who had been caught in the act of adultery. They put her in front of the crowd.
4 “Teacher,” they said to Jesus, “this woman was caught in the act of adultery. 5 The law of Moses says to stone her. What do you say?”
6 They were trying to trap him into saying something they could use against him, but Jesus stooped down and wrote in the dust with his finger. 7 They kept demanding an answer, so he stood up again and said, “All right, but let the one who has never sinned throw the first stone!” 8 Then he stooped down again and wrote in the dust.
9 When the accusers heard this, they slipped away one by one, beginning with the oldest, until only Jesus was left in the middle of the crowd with the woman. 10 Then Jesus stood up again and said to the woman, “Where are your accusers? Didn’t even one of them condemn you?”
11 “No, Lord,” she said.
And Jesus said, “Neither do I. Go and sin no more.”
Does anyone think that people got the impression that Jesus was condoning adultery? Of course not. But he did not condemn her or reject her. He also encouraged her to get past her behavior and live a different way.
Acceptance is the gift of significance. It is not the affirmation of a behavior. When your church gets a hold of this principle, it will revitalize your church.
Why People Need The Guarantee Of Forgiveness In Your Church
I shared the story of how we had a fallen pastor come to the first church I was every a part of and how the man found forgiveness.
Why did he come to our church?
The answer is obvious. He needed to find forgiveness for what he had done.
The church is good at talking about forgiveness, but it is not nearly as good about walking the walk of forgiveness. We have seminars, preach messages, and have multiple Bible studies on forgiveness but when it comes to forgiving people. Well, that is a different story.
Let me share with you a scripture found in the book of Ephesians.
Ephesians 4:32 New Living Translation (NLT)
32 Instead, be kind to each other, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, just as God through Christ has forgiven you.
Let me ask you a question. How has God forgiven you?
Did you have to clean up first?
Did you have to wait?
Did you have to prove yourself first?
The key to walking in forgiveness is always to be aware of how much you have been forgiven and the manner in which God forgave you.
The answer, of course, is no. God did not make us do this to receive forgiveness. All we had to do was ask.
If we are honestly going to be Christ-like, then we have to model the same type of forgiveness that Christ gives. We have to guarantee that forgiveness.
Just this last year my friend, mentor, and first pastor Jerry Cook went to be with Jesus. His life was modeled by the three guarantees that I have been talking about.
The Guarantee Of Forgiveness
In his book Love, Acceptance, and Forgiveness he wrote these words.
The third thing we must guarantee people is that no matter how miserably they fail or how blatantly they sin, our unreserved forgiveness is theirs for the asking with no bitter taste left in anybody’s mouth.
This is much easier said than done but we must do it if we are sincere in our quest to be more like Jesus.
In my own life, I can’t think of a higher test of this than forgiving my ex-wife. I am not going to go into the details. I don’t think it would be something that would be beneficial. However, suffice it to say that what happened between us wounded me to the very core of my soul.
Finding the strength or ability to forgive was not easy. It was only through coming to an understanding of how much, and how sincerely God forgave me that I was able to forgive her.
My good friend Rick Trimble said something to me once that helped me with this process.
When we are hurt, and somebody does something to us that we feel wrong, they owe a debt to us. Usually, it is an emotional debt of some kind. We have been betrayed, wounded, deceived, or had some other things happen to us that took from us something we held dear.
When we forgive we are like a bank charging off a debt. The debt is owed, but the bank deems the debtor unable to pay the debt. It is charged off their books.
In the same way, we must come to realize that the debt that is owed to us in really unpayable. It cannot be repaid. The person who wounded you or sinned against you is not able to repay you what you lost. It is impossible because it is an emotional debt at its core.
So you decide to view them as unable to pay you, and you charge it off.
This is precisely what Jesus did for us. Do you remember the old gospel song called He paid a debt?
He paid a debt He did not owe;
I owed a debt I could not pay;
I needed someone to wash my sins away.
And, now, I sing a brand new song,
Christ Jesus paid a debt that I could never pay.
What is Forgiveness
The Greek Word For Forgiveness is Charizomai. It means…..
- to do something pleasant or agreeable (to one), to do a favor to, gratify
- to show one’s self gracious, kind, benevolent
- to grant forgiveness, to pardon
- to give graciously, give freely, bestow
- to forgive
- graciously to restore one to another
- to preserve for one a person in peril
Do you notice how the word gracious is in that definition? That is because the root word for forgiveness is Charis which means grace.
When you forgive someone, you are pouring out grace upon them. You are giving them unmerited favor just like God has given us the same unmerited favor.
Now before you think I am talking about letting people walk all over you, allow me to dispel some common myths about forgiveness.
Common Myths About Forgiveness
Myth #1 Forgive and forget.
Just try pulling that off. It never works. Just because you forgive does not mean that you can forget. You can only write off the debt as unpayable. You cannot forget what has been done.
Myth #2 You will feel better when you forgive.
Some things happen in your life that will always have emotions tied to them. The thing that happened between my ex-wife and myself still have some emotional pain attached to it.
That is OK.
God understands the pain. I know the pain. She still does not owe me anything. She is forgiven.
Myth #3 Forgiveness means that you must return to a destructive relationship.
The fact is that there are some people that you will never be able to have a healthy relationship with. You must put in place boundaries because of their behavior. That does not mean that they owe you anything. It just says that you are not keeping a ledger of the debts that they owe you.
Forgiveness can be the basis for re-establishing a healthy relationship but should never be used for re-establishing an unhealthy one.
Myth #4 If you forgive you are compromising or condoning the wrong behavior.
Forgiveness doesn’t deal with innocence or guilt. That is the job of justice. Forgiveness deals with whether you are going to hang on to the debt. What was done to you was not right or OK. It may never be OK in anybody’s book. It just means that the debt was real, but you write it off.
Refusing To Play God
There is a verse in Luke’s gospel that is misunderstood and misquoted all the time.
Luke 6:37 New Living Translation (NLT)
37 “Do not judge others, and you will not be judged. Do not condemn others, or it will all come back against you. Forgive others, and you will be forgiven.
In our society, this scripture is used to try to make people stop discerning whether something is right or wrong. Usually, it is used in the context of a person wanting to justify behavior they are doing that is clearly shown as wrong in the same scriptures.
Jesus was not talking about discerning right or wrong here, but he was talking about passing sentence.
I have driven over 3 million miles in my life because for 22 years I supplemented my income as a pastor by driving a semi-truck. I have had a few tickets in my life, and I had to stand before a judge as he decided what my fate would be.
This is the type of judging that Jesus was talking about. He was talking about giving a judgement and imposing a sentence. That is why the entire thought is tied with condemnation and forgiveness.
God is the judge of the world. He is the one that will pronounce judgment and give a sentence. When we step into that role, then we are playing God. When we refuse to judge, then we are placing our trust in Him and that He knows all the circumstances and will do the right thing.
Corrie Ten Boom put it this way.
“Forgiveness is the key that unlocks the door of resentment and the handcuffs of hatred. It is a power that breaks the chains of bitterness and the shackles of selfishness.”
This is what the church is supposed to be about. If we are going to be all that God has created us to be then we must become a group of people that gives the guarantee of forgiveness. We must become like the one we claim to follow. We must become like Jesus. When your church models Jesus it will revitalize your church.