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Tuesday, July 31, 2012

What is the church to be known by?

What’s become known as the Great Commandment and the Great Commission is at the core for local church ministry.  It’s from these words of Jesus Christ that the 3Rs of Relevant Ministry have emerged.  More on the 3Rs in a moment but first...

I must begin this third of three articles about the church with a confession.  A few years ago, I would have titled this article, What is the church to do?  - instead of, What is the church to be known by?  Like the previous two articles there is an important shift:
This third shift is about identity.  The church is people, it is a living organism.  As a person when we get a handle on our identity we come to realize we’re human beings, not human doings.  Our significance is based on who and whose we are rather than what we do.  

The church will do things, but with this shift, all of a church’s ministry will come from a sense of their uniqueness and healthy identity. 

"Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her."  Like each of us who have come to know Christ and are “in Him”, each local church is loved unconditionally, it’s completely forgiven, it’s accepted and fully pleasing to God. 

Now, with this healthy sense of identity all that a church does is ‘because of’ God’s great love.  There is no drivenness with the need to prove something.  This healthy identity helps each individual church discover its uniqueness and how God is calling them to live out the Great Commandment (Matthew 22:37-39) and Great Commission (Matthew 28:19-20).  The 3Rs emerge from this core:
  • To “Love the Lord your God” Matthew 22:37 (relationship) 
  • To “Love your neighbor” Matthew 22:39 (be responsive) 
  • To “Make disciples” Matthew 28:19 (reveal Christ)
The words above in parentheses are Relevant Ministry’s 3Rs of doing ministry that's relevant:
  • Relational (God loves us and wants to be in relationship with us) 
  • Responsive (We are to love others, responding to and joining God in what He is doing) 
  • Reveals Christ (We are to make disciples by letting our light shine and revealing Christ in our lives)
The  3Rs from the Great Commandment and Great Commission become the core for a church to take an inside-out approach - a responsive flow centered in Christ that moves from ‘being’ to ‘doing’.  The opposite, outside-in, becomes more reactionary.  An outside-in approach to ministry starts with and is focused on ‘doing’.  This approach to ministry is often driven by crises or current ministry fads.  It can get stuck in old methods and it’s often caught up in business. 

Paul said the first century church in Thessalonica “became a model” (I Thessalonians 1:7) and that - “your faith in God has become known everywhere.” (I Thessalonians 1:8) Here is what he says they were known by:
  • You turned to God from idols” I Thessalonians 1:9 (relationship) 
  • You became imitators of us and of the Lord” I Thessalonians 1:6 (responsive) 
  • The Lord’s message rang out from you” I Thessalonians 1:8 (revealed Christ)
By discovering identity and taking an inside-out approach benefits both the church and its leadership.  The church can be freed up from being over programmed and leadership can be freed up from the need to perform.  An inside-out approach helps us to boldly think and ask - “what are all our methods and programs attempting to achieve?”

Statistics I shared in the introductory article titled, The Church, project that six out of ten churches could close over the next ten years!  For clergy - 1,500 pastors leave the ministry each month due to moral failure, spiritual burnout, or contention in their churches.

These numbers are staggering but can be turned around, if we’re ready to take a different approach.  I saw this on a sign the other day at a restaurant that Pam and I go to from time-to-time - “If you always do what you’ve done, you’ll always get what you’ve always got.”

How could your church benefit from this inside-out identity approach to ministry?

What is your church known by?

I sent out a dozen email a few days before this article was posted to some pastor friends asking the question - What is the church to be known by?  I heard back from eight and each offered wonderful insight that helped shape this article.  Thanks to each of you!  I hope you will take a few minutes to post your comments below.

In August, Jeff Hegstrom and Brad Houchin from the RM team will be joining me (Nelson Roth) and we will be writing weekly for several months about 'The 7 Marks of a Healthy Church'.  The 7 Marks are the ministry outcomes and initiatives that flow out of the 3Rs of Relevant Ministry.  If you are not yet subscribed to be notified each time a new blog article is posted - you can do so here, or at the top of this page.

Click to post your comment. 

RM’s vision - to equip leaders to minister relevantly in churches that will be healthy and thriving.

Relevant Ministry Inc.
Training future leaders - Building healthy ministries - Serving on the Gulf Coast


  1. Nelson,
    Thanks for the truth about BEING the church. Just today I learned that for at least the next several weeks I will be doing 6 hours of physical therapy each week. In my mind that immediately cuts into my "DOING". And, of course, as a pastor I am always "doing" church. :) Your thought is a great reminder that I am the church and can be the church no matter where I am and what I am doing. So, for the next several weeks I will also BE the church in the PT unit at SMH. How true it is that if the doing is without the being how miserable we become. And, by the way, it accomplishes little of nothing for the Kingdom.

    1. Thanks JD, I appreciate your thoughts on 'being' the church. Living it out is the big step and often the challenge for me. One of the songs we sing is "I will follow", by Chris Tomlin - "Where You go, I’ll go, Where You stay, I’ll stay, When You move, I’ll move, I will follow You." The big step is staying in His steps. I pray that your PT goes according to plans. -Nelson

  2. My hope and prayer is that we would be known by our willingness and desire to love God and love people (Matt. 22:37-40) and also by our passion to teach those in our care how to best do that, based on their unique gifts and callings. It seems to me that if we would focus on these simple things, the rest of ministry would flow from that well. I grieve that the Church is currently known more for what we are opposed to – rather than all we are for – and sadly we have no one to blame for that but ourselves. I pray that is changing!

    Thanks for these articles, Nelson - they are encouraging!

    1. Hi Shelley, I like you words - especially "if we would focus on these simple things...". I can tend to complicate things. I want to experience the "flow from that well" more and more. Thanks for the encouragement and challenge. -Nelson

  3. Several of my students and I just returned from a missions trip where it would be easy to get caught up in a lot of “doing” and bypass the “being”. Something I really challenged the students on is the difference between emotion vs. truth. On a week like that, serving alongside 300 students to help meet the needs of the poor and broken in our community, emotions can run high, and we can FEEL like our lives have been changed. But emotions are ever changing. For some of the students and leaders that went on the trip, those emotions they felt on the trip have already worn off and been replaced by a different emotion as they engage the next thing in their summer schedules. We are changed not by our emotions, but by the truth. And that’s what the church should be known by….the way it responds to truth. The church in Thessalonica was recognized by their zealousness, but they were KNOWN for their response of faith to the truth (1 Thessalonians 1:9, 1:6, 1:8). If we’re not firmly rooted in the truth of who we are and whose we are, then when our zealousness to “do” wears off, we will be left still looking for significance. The way I see it, a healthy church is one that is “being” and “doing” out of a response to Truth, regardless of how it feels. We can never feel our way into action, but if we act on what is true, our emotions will eventually follow suit.

    1. Erik, sounds like a great week of serving. Your thoughts about how change comes and the difference between truth and emotion is so good. Thanks for the challenge to respond to truth. -Nelson


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