Understanding The Bible
Preparing Our Church for the Future
By Dr. Glen Clifton 1.
The MISSION of the CHURCH is clear. Jesus left no doubt about it at His Ascension. When His disciples asked when the kingdom be restored, Jesus said,
“It is not for you to know times or seasons which the Father has put in His own power (authority). But you shall receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be witnesses to Me in both Jerusalem, and in all Judea, and in Samaria, and unto the uttermost part of the earth.” Acts 1:7,8
“Then those who gladly received his word were baptized, and that day about three thousand souls were added to them. And they continued steadfastly in the apostles doctrine (teaching), and fellowship, in the breaking of bread and in prayers.” “So continuing daily with one accord in the temple, and breaking bread from house to house, they ate their food with gladness and simplicity of heart, praising God and having favor with all the people. And the Lord added to the church daily those who were being saved.” Acts 2:41-42; 46-47
The new President
of the Southern Baptist Convention recently asked in his article in SBC LIFE, if
our Denomination, “is going to have a great future? Are we just REARRANGING DECK
CHAIRS on a Denominational TITANIC? Are we trying to put new wine in old
YOU MAY ASK: “Why would he ask such questions? HERE’S WHY: MOST of our churches in the S.B.C. (75% to 80%) have plateaued or are declining. Various FACTIONS and splinter groups have left the convention. SOUL WINNING has taken a back seat in most churches, and EVANGELISM is almost non-existent with most members and many pastors.
JESUS SAID, “ Follow me and I will make you fishers of men.” Yet, the late Bill Bright of Campus Crusade for Christ, stated, “that fewer than 2 percent of Christians ever verbally share the gospel.” THAT MEANS that 98 per cent of the church never shares their faith with others. JESUS came “to seek and to save those who are lost.” (Luke 19:10) And, that’s just what He did during His whole earthly ministry! JESUS KEPT “THE MAIN THING….THE MAIN THING!” Yet, the Southern Baptist Convention, with almost 17,000,000 million members had 25,000 churches, who didn’t have any baptisms of youth 18 and under last year, and over 10,000 of our churches reported NO BAPTISMS AT ALL! And, may I say this as KINDLY, yet as FIRMLY as I can….MAY GOD FORGIVE US!!!
PRAY TELL ME: How can a Minister of the Gospel go 365 days a year, and not lead ONE PERSON TO JESUS?
We cannot afford to continue “PLAYING CHURCH!” As a church, we must be willing to REPENT of our “SPIRITUAL LETHARGY,” which has led us into activities, meetings, programs and plans, but has taken us away FROM THE MAIN THING. Our CALENDARS are full, but our COMMITMENT is empty!!! Many churches are in their ROBE and SLIPPERS leaning back in their DECK CHAIRS with a sign stating: “DO NOT DISTURB!” Jesus said a LUKEWARM CHURCH makes Him VOMIT! ( Revelation 3:14-16).
You can’t hatch chickens in a REFRIGERATOR….you need an INCUBATOR. And many of our churches ARE SO COLD and DEAD, it’s no wonder that VISITORS don’t come back…and SINNERS are not saved. GOD WILL NOT ADD CONVERTS to such an environment. A MAN DROWNING does not need a seminar on swimming or a book review on diving, he needs a LIFE PRESERVER! AND, A MAN LOST in SIN does NOT need anything, but A SAVIOR!
Well, I guess I better get to TODAY’S MESSAGE. Guess I just got carried away and went to meddling. PLEASE UNDERSTAND, this is close to my heart. I WAS SAVED in a Southern Baptist Church. I was NURTURED and RAISED in a SBC church. My WIFE was SAVED in a SBC church. We were MARRIED in a SBC church. I was EDUCATED in Southern Baptist Universities and Seminaries. I have PASTORED SBC churches across America in 4 states. Most of these churches LED THE ASSOCIATION in BAPTISMS, and in COOPERATIVE PROGRAM GIVING. WHY? To start churches and send missionaries around the world. Leading people to Christ HAS BEEN A PRIORITY IN MY MINISTRY.
Well, WHAT CAN WE DO to PREPARE OUR CHURCH for the FUTURE?
I. WE MUST HAVE SOME CLEAR GOALS!
If I were to pass out a SLIP OF PAPER to each of you this morning, and ask you to list the GOAL, the PURPOSE, the PASSION of our church…WHAT WOULD YOU WRITE DOWN? I think most of us know the answer. The majority would write: We should be reaching people for Jesus. Then, WHY aren’t we doing it?
SOMEONE ONCE SAID: When the church loses sight of its main GOAL, it reverts to programs, meetings, and activities. SOMEONE ELSE, I think it was Vance Havner, said, “If the Holy Spirit departed from the average church, 95% of the activities we have would continue as usual.” We have substituted activities and programs FOR THE MAIN THING! A very sad commentary on our church.
How many of you know what this is? (HOLD out your hand as you have something in it, twist round and round windmill style, and jerk it hard once down, and let go) YOU COUNTRY PEOPLE know, don’t you? It’s the way to kill a chicken for dinner. Ringing its neck. Most of our city kids don’t understand this because they think chickens come from a wrapper with clear plastic on top. Just like many think eggs and milk come from a plastic carton, not from a hen or a cow. That’s a sad commentary too.
Growing up in a small country town in South Texas, I raised rabbits, and of course, chickens. When mother wanted to cook a chicken for supper, she would send me to the back acre to kill a chicken. I would twirl its neck and jerk it, and drop it to the ground for it to die. Although almost dead, it would kick, jump around, jerk its whole body around and flap its wings. I could have charged admission for this unusual sight. Then, it lay still….DEAD.
BUT, JUST BEFORE DEATH, that chicken would be the most active bird in the backyard. This frantic ACTIVITY did NOT mean life. UNFORTUNATELY, the same IS TRUE for SOME CHURCHES. JESUS spoke to the Church at SARDIS. Sardis had lots of ACTIVITY and ORGANIZATION…BUT IT WAS A DEAD, LIFELESS CHURCH. It had a name that it was alive, but it was dead. They had mistaken PERFORMANCE for EXPERIENCE. (Revelation 3:1-6). Paul warned Timothy, that in the last days that, “men would have a form of godliness, but would deny the power (of God). II Timothy 3:6
REMEMBER SAMPSON? When he LOST his POWER, “he didn’t even know that the Lord had departed from him.“ (Joshua 16:20). For OUR CHURCH to be strong, IT MUST FOCUS ITS ACTIVITIES and PROGRAMS on winning and disciplining people to Jesus. We can’t afford to lose our power!
Another word for
GOAL is: Having a DREAM, OR VISION. We are warned: “Where there is NO VISION,
the people PERISH…” (Proverbs 29:18)
INSTITUTIONS, CORPORATIONS as well as INDIVIDUALS always prosper when they have GOALS. Psychiatrist, Dr. Victor Frankl, stated, “FAILURE to achieve our goals is less perilous than HAVING NO GOALS AT ALL.” The goal of most churches, unfortunately, is just to continue meeting for an endless succession of “next Sundays.” Between each Sunday morning at 11 o’clock lies no vision, no dreams, no sense of mission for doing anything great for God.
Sometimes I think that Southern Baptists have SO MANY PROGRAMS on HOW to do it, WHEN to do it, and WHERE to do it….we get so MUSCLE-BOUND on going to studies on how it’s done, THAT WE NEVER DO IT. Any PROGRAM, any STUDY, any MUSIC that ultimately doesn’t disciple you to lead others to Christ, SHOULD BE DONE AWAY WITH. IT IS A WASTE OF TIME!
II. WE MUST LET OUR PASTOR “BE” THE PASTOR!
No church ever became a “great church” without the strong LEADERSHIP of a STRONG PASTOR. Not a tyrant or a dictator, but a GENUINE SERVANT of God. A real shepherd LEADS the sheep, NOT DRIVES them like a cowboy.
Holy Spirit-attuned pastors help make great churches. BUT, PEOPLE LISTEN: We must let our pastor BE THE PASTOR! What do I mean?
ILLUSTRATION: Several years ago CHRISTIANITY TODAY magazine ran an article entitled: ‘PASTOR - A - GO - GO.” It said, “a pastor MUST ‘be a success’ at any cost…He must be ‘all things to all men,’ but, unlike Paul, he is expected to be all of them at the same time. Rather than being the Prophet, Priest and Pastor that is so often needed, he often wakes up to find that he is only a Promoter, Pusher, Planner and Performer.”
SOMEONE HAS SAID, “The PASTOR/PREACHER must have the PATIENCE of Job, the WISDOM of Solomon, the STRENGTH of Samson, the CONCERN of Paul, and the LOVE OF JESUS CHRIST.” I’ve been around churches for over 70 years (I attended with my mother, before I was born…ha!), and have been closely affiliated with pastors for 50 years….and, I HAVEN’T MET THIS GUY YET!
In order for God’s man to be Prophet, Priest and Pastor….WE MUST GIVE HIM TIME TO PREPARE for this. He needs time to PRAY, to PREPARE, to PLAN, and to PREACH. If he is to speak to enlighten the hearts of God’s people and to reach out to the lost, he must have time to prepare himself and his message. There is a time to be FRIENDLY, AND there is a time to LEAVE HIM ALONE!!!
When I was 19 years old, I pastored my first little country church in Texas. As I’ve said before, “that’s where I first learned how to persecute the saints.” I was a student in Baylor University. Dee and I would drive out on Friday or Saturday, spend the night in Deacon Millsaps home, and I would visit all day. ONE SUNDAY, after the morning service, I VISITED all afternoon. I was on three tractors, two pick-ups, and shot several rifle rounds with some teen-agers in a back field. I lost track of time. When I got back to the church that night, they were already singing. I was hungry, sweaty and hot, tired and thirsty, so I just stayed in the car and prayed for awhile. One of our DEACONS, (we had two), came out to the car and asked, “Preacher, are you O.K.?” I said YES, just sing another song… He turned and started to walk back into the church, THEN HE TURNED to me and said, “BROTHER GLEN, WE ARE PRAYING FOR YOU.” Then he went inside. In a few minutes I walked inside and preached. WE HAD TWO SAVED that night. That was 50 years ago, and I CAN STILL REMEMBER IT VIVIDLY!
Three months after they CALLED ME AS PASTOR, they gave me a raise. They increased my salary from $7.50 to $12.00 a Sunday. WOW, was I blessed! OH, and EACH SUNDAY EVENING when Dee and I unloaded our daughter Pamela we found SACKS of vegetables, several DOZEN eggs, FROZEN chickens and beef.
These were MUCH
MORE VALUABLE than money. These country folks tried to take care of us as we
labored with them for Jesus.
My first church was a LITTLE church, but, THEY LOVED ME AND PRAYED FOR ME. It was easy to visit, teach and preach to them. They were responsive. After I was there for about a year, they started saying AMEN and PRAISE THE LORD. Let us do the same for our pastor in this church.
III. WE MUST BE LOVING AND ACCEPTING!
Remember the woman at the well, (John 4) JESUS ACCEPTED HER. Although she had five marriages and divorces and a current live-in boyfriend, Jesus accepted her. He did NOT APPROVE of her adultery….He called it SIN. However, WITHOUT JUDGMENT, He offered her “living water” and everyone witnessed her life change forever.
Today, we have to many churches and church members who throw rocks, instead of handing a rope to safely drag someone out of the stormy sea. WHAT WE NEED is to be RE-CAPTURED by the New Testament spirit of Christianity. WE MUST become more like N.T. Christians….OR ELSE! We must be helpers and encouragers, not judging and criticizing.
Dr. Carl Henry once said, “The world has not rejected Christianity…The world has READ the New Testament and the Book of Acts, and COMPARED it to our churches today…and THEY HAVE REJECTED US!”
We need TO BE like
THEY WERE….for a GREAT TRIUMPHANT CHURCH!
In California, I was preaching one morning in our church, when a big, bearded, bourbon-breathed, biker walked in the church. He proceeded to walk to about the third row from the front. In those days in downtown Long Beach, our congregation was well-dressed and well-mannered. He caused quite a stir, to say the least. They were not quite prepared for this, even though I had told them that I had been witnessing to a motorcycle group.
What was amazing was: one of our well-liked, elderly, country-boy deacons, formerly from Oklahoma, went and sat down beside him. When the service was over, the deacon turned to the big biker and said, “Man, you need Jesus, just like I did, don’t you?” The biker answered Brother Holland and said, “Yeah, man, and I need Him right now.” Brother Holland put his hand on his shoulder and led him in prayer….AND HE WAS SAVED…BECAUSE HE WAS LOVED AND ACCEPTED!”
Everybody wants to be loved….the DOWN-AND-OUTERS and the UP-AND-OUTERS. Being loved and accepted is the natural need of the human heart. It must be our GOAL to REACH OUT TO EVERYONE! LISTEN: From the White House to the Poor House, EVERYONE needs to be loved and accepted.
Mike Burger, newspaper columnist, wrote a story about a little boy who DEFACED the wall of a New York Public Library. With paint, he had sprayed a LARGE RED HEART. Inside the heart he sprayed, “BILLY MEYER LOVES EVERYBODY!” LISTEN CHURCH: Our message is not on a wall, it is in the Bible, it was WRITTEN with the blood of Jesus, and it says, “GOD LOVES EVERYBODY.”…. “AND WE MUST LOVE THEM TOO.”
In our fast-paced society people are HURTING. Many come to this church on Sunday seeking to FIND SOLUTIONS to their problems. The problems of our society and our families are more BIZARRE and WACKY than ever before. The DEPTH and DEPRAVITY of the human condition is tragic. There are more ADDICTIONS, and more there is more BROKENNESS in our families than ever before. Are we willing to reach out to the UNCHURCHED, the UNSAVED, PEOPLE NOT LIKE US, and let them know that we CARE and LOVE THEM?
IV. WE MUST BE A CHURCH OF CELEBRATIVE WORSHIP
Since retiring from the active pastorate and when I‘m not preaching, Dee and I have had the opportunity to visit some churches on the Treasure Coast of Florida.
We left some,
convinced never to return again, because we didn’t attend there to be in a
FUNERAL SERVICE or a MAUSOLEUM. There was no victory, no joy, no celebration…and
most of the time very little preparation.
VANCE HAVNER once said, “If things are quiet and undisturbed in your church, that is not necessarily a good sign. Things are usually pretty quiet around the sick and the dead and especially in graveyards.” HEAR ME CHURCH: Every Sunday we must have the CELEBRATION of RESURRECTION, because WE SERVE A RISEN, LIVING SAVOR!
When UNCHURCHED people come into our church DO THEY SENSE OUR JOY? Do we convey a SPIRIT that is ATTRACTIVE and APPEALING? Do we SING with vigor and enthusiasm? Are our SERVICES BORING and UNEVENTFUL? LISTEN: Sunday is a time of CELEBRATION!
We used to sing a little CHORUS that said, “If you’re happy and you know it, clap your hands.” It goes on to say, “If you’re happy and you know it, THEN YOUR FACE WILL SURELY SHOW IT….” Looking at some of you….you must NOT KNOW THAT! Amen OR Oh, Me?
In ISAIAH, Chapter 6, the prophet heard the ADORATION and PRAISE, “Holy, Holy, Holy, is the Lord of Hosts; The whole earth is full of His glory.” (v. 3). By the way….it was SO LOUD (V.4), that the doorposts and thresholds SHOOK. SOME PEOPLES idea of a WORSHIP SERVICE is a “MILD” mannered man, exhorting a bunch of “MILD” mannered people, to be “MILD” mannered. They don’t want to DO anything, or SAY anything, or SING anything. They just want to come and be REAL QUIET, and SIT and SOAK. PERSONALLY, they remind me of a WET SPONGE. Ever smell an old, wet sponge….IT STINKS!
Mark Twains SECRET OF SUCCESS was, “I was born excited!” Well, I wasn’t born excited, BUT, I WAS “BORN AGAIN” EXCITED.
And, furthermore, I DON’T WANT TO GET OVER IT EITHER! To many of our people HAVE GOTTEN OVER IT. We’ve forgotten and “left our first love, ” and we must “REMEMBER…and REPENT…and do the things we did first, or else He will come and remove our POWER.“ Revelation 2:4,5
The BIBLE SAYS that what GOD DESIRES is WORSHIP….And He is worthy of our PRAISE. (Revelation 4:11). LISTEN: Real Worship is MY PERSONAL RESPONSE to an ENCOUNTER with the LIVING LORD.
PSALM 103:1 says, “Bless the Lord, O my soul and ALL that is WITHIN me, Bless His Holy name.” WHEN you WORSHIP in the Spirit, IT INVOLVES all that is within you, RISING to PRAISE and ADORE the Living God. Many a church is in her ROBE and SLIPPERS, leaning back in her easy chair with a SIGN around her neck stating: “DO NOT DISTURB!”
When we sang, “Praise Your name Lord Jesus, You’re my ROCK, You’re my FORTRESS, You’re my DELIVERER, In You will I trust.” DO YOU KNOW WHY that’s SO POWERFUL? It’s because you are SINGING GOD‘S WORD, the Bible, in Psalms 18 and 31.
BRETHREN, LET ME BRING THIS HOME. I would much rather hear SANDI PATTY sing than GLEN CLIFTON….but, I suspect, according to the Word of God, that the LORD GOD WOULD JUST AS SOON hear Glen Clifton as Sandi Patty….IF I’M SINGING FROM MY HEART.
ALL RIGHT, are you ready? I am going to find a little SENSITIVE NERVE, that you may have, and KINDA STOMP on it. And, you may GET MAD at what I have to say, but THAT’S O.K., I’ll love you anyway. I have ALWAYS WONDERED why SOME CHRISTIANS DO NOT SING? I really do. And, if you’re one of the Christians who doesn’t sing, I’d appreciate it if you’d come tell me why….I’D REALLY LIKE TO KNOW.
SOMEONE MIGHT SAY, “When I sing, it doesn’t sound good.” To Whom? Are you singing to US, OR TO THE LORD. It’s not your VOCAL CHORDS….it’s your HEART that counts. ONE MAN SAID, “That he couldn’t carry a TUNE in a BUCKET.” Oh, he could carry it, but, he felt that he just couldn’t UNLOAD IT. SOME OF YOU might feel like you are a PRISON SINGER….always BEHIND A FEW BARS and can’t FIND THE RIGHT KEY. But, SING ANYWAY! WHY? Because the Bible says to do it. IT IS PLEASING TO GOD!!!
One of the most INSPIRING MEN I have ever led to the Lord was named SONNY. In 1959, Dee and I left Texas for Northern California, up in the Pacific Northwest, almost 250 miles north of San Francisco. We started a church in a little town, in our home. SONNY was DEAF and DUMB. He couldn’t TALK, and couldn’t SING….but HE TRIED. He made STRANGE SOUNDS, but when He accepted Jesus as his Savior, HE WANTED TO EXPRESS IT. For someone to CRITIQUE Sonny for QUALITY, he wouldn’t have made it. BUT, OH, I knew it was coming from his heart.
And, when we had a TESTIMONY SERVICE….SONNY always stood to give his testimony. How could he do that, you might ask? Simply by POINTING UP to God, and then to his HEART, all the while making those little squealing, garbled, guttural sounds. Then he would repeat the sequence over and over. WE ALL GOT A BLESSING OUT OF HIS TESTIMONY.
IN CLOSING, let me ask you a QUESTION. Are we going to be A REAL NEW TESTAMENT CHURCH…..or simply continue RE-ARRANGING the DECK CHAIRS on our spiritual “CRUSE SHIP?”
How many of you have ever been on a cruse? RAISE YOUR HANDS. Most cruse ships are operated better than most churches. When the waters get a little bit choppy and stormy, Do WE LOOK for another captain or new ship? When someone switches the music on our cruse, DO WE COMPLAIN to the activities director? OH, and heaven forbid, that someone “new” would sit in my deck chair.
The CHURCH is NOT a CRUSE SHIP! It is a HOSPITAL SHIP sailing out into the stormy waters of the world, TO RESCUE THE PERISHING.
THE CHURCH is a
NURSERY for the care of WEAK ONES! It is a HOSPITAL for HEALING those who need
OUR MISSION is the Lord’s, to RESCUE THE PERISHING and CARE for the dying. Our MISSION is to “seek and to save those who are lost.” Matthew 18:11
Jesus, THIS IS OUR PURPOSE! It is our REASON TO EXIST!
Can you imagine a group of FIREFIGHTERS polishing their ENGINE outside a burning building with people trapped on the top floor window? LISTEN: There is nothing wrong with polishing the FIRE ENGINE…BUT, NOT WHILE PEOPLE ARE TRAPPED AND DYING IN A BURNING BUILDING. Have we NEGLECTED the GOD-GIVEN TASK given to us by Jesus, all the while POLISHING the engines of activities, trips, meetings, and studies, etc.?
Charles Spurgeon asked, “Have we no wish for others to be saved? Then you are not saved yourself. Be sure of that.” Jesus said to some of the most religious people who lived, “I never knew you, depart from Me.” Matthew 7:21-23
“COMMITMENT” is the key word in the Christian life. COMMITMENT is the key to SUCCESS in the CHURCH, in your MARRIAGE, in your BUSINESS, in your SCHOOL STUDIES, in SPORTS, and in all of LIFE.
A college boy went into a PHOTOGRAPHY STUDIO with a framed PICTURE of his girlfriend. He wanted to have it DUPLICATED. Taking it out of the frame the studio owner noticed the INSCRIPTION on the back. It said,
“My dearest Tommy: I love you with all my heart. I love you
more and more each day. I will love you forever and ever. I
am yours.” It was signed, “Dianne.” And, there was a P.S.
“If we should ever break up, I want this picture back.”
My daddy used to say, “Son, ANYTHING WORTHWHILE COSTS SOMETHING!” Will you step up to the plate, and become a winner with Christ?
Are you here
today, AND YOU KNOW that you NEED TO COME TO CHRIST? OR, Maybe, you need to COME
BACK TO HIM. This ALTAR IS EMPTY…IT OUGHT TO BE FULL OF CONCERNED, PRAYING
PEOPLE! Will you STEP OUT and set the example for someone else? “Now is the
accepted time, today is the day of salvation.” II Corinthians 6:2
(Preached at King’s Baptist Church, Vero Beach, FL, October 1, 2001. This sermon was preached in preparation for the arrival of the new Senior Pastor the next Sunday.))
Copyright 2006, Dr. Glen
Used by permission
JESUS 'LORD' OF YOUR LIFE?"
by Dr. Glen E. Clifton
1. Dr. Clifton preached this sermon at King's Baptist church in Vero Beach, Florida in Preached at King's Baptist Church in Vero Beach, FL, October 1, 2006 where he had been serving as Interim Preacher for several months. Dr. Clifton and his wife Dee, have been retired to Florida for 4 years. He has been kept busy preaching up and down the Treasure coast since he moved here. He can be contacted for speaking engagements at (772) 336-3992.
Clifton, Dr. Glen E., Brief Biography