Rethinking ChurchBy Dan Vis
December 14, 2020
This week I want to encourage us to think a bit more creatively about church. I'm actually in the process of rolling out some new ways for churches to use our training resources at FAST. In the paragraphs below I share a hint at what got me thinking along these lines...
I love the picture above. It reminds me of the very first FAST mission trip. Two young men, barely out of their teens decided to do a mission trip to Romania, to share the power of the memorized Word. They had no money, no contacts, no resources in the local language, and not even much of a plan. But God opened a way, and they ended up going over to assist with an evangelistic series. While there, their bus broke down literally at the steps of the conference office. While sitting on those steps, jetlagged, and waiting for new transportation, the youth director of the conference happened to come out and begin chatting with them. After learning what they wanted to do, he became excited and began setting up appointments. And the rest was history. They ended up spending an entire summer there doing an amazing amount of work--literally one miracle after another. Just watching how God worked through those two young men was an incredible boost to my faith...
But often, the ministry experience in our churches is not so faith-building. We're not very strategic, nimble, determined. Perhaps we're just lacking a bit of youthful daring! Regardless, the same old programs just roll along with little change, and few changed lives. Miracles seem a bit sparse.
This has been especially true during the pandemic. Many churches were caught completely unprepared, and have yet to formulate any real strategy for dealing with shutdowns and other public health requirements, and are just waiting for it all to pass. But other churches have pivoted, adopted new methods and technologies, and grown. They've strengthened communications, revived small groups, conducted member training virtually, run evangelistic seminars online, and more. Some may well come out of this pandemic stronger and more resilient than they went in!
The key is simply learning to think just a bit differently about church. And at FAST, in particular, that means rethinking how we serve churches.
Why Churches?You may be tempted to think, now is not the time to really focus on churches. Many people are accessing spiritual resources more as individuals right now than congregations. Many churches are not even meeting--or are meeting under severely restricted circumstances. Cultural trends seem to be shifting away from organized religion and toward more private and personal worship. Why not bypass the church and go straight to the grass roots believer?
The answer is simple: I believe in the local church. Despite its weaknesses and flaws, it is still the most important institution in our quest to make disciples. Jesus didn't come just to launch a new religion--but to build a church (Matthew 16:8Which when Jesus perceived, he said unto them, O ye of little faith, why reason ye among yourselves, because ye have brought no bread?). Paul didn't just lead individuals to Christ all over the ancient world, he planted churches (Acts 16:5And so were the churches established in the faith, and increased in number daily.). And most of his writing consisted of letters written to churches! Even the book of Revelation is addressed specifically "to the seven churches which are in Asia" (Revelation 1:4John to the seven churches which are in Asia: Grace be unto you, and peace, from him which is, and which was, and which is to come; and from the seven Spirits which are before his throne;).
The Old Testament repeatedly refers to the "congregation" of the righteous, and the "assembly" of the upright. And the New Testament is filled with commands about church life: to love one another, exhort one another, comfort one another, forgive one another, edify one another, pray for one another, admonish one another, serve one another, and more. The Sabbath was designed to be a day of "convocation" (Leviticus 23:3Six days shall work be done: but the seventh day is the sabbath of rest, an holy convocation; ye shall do no work therein: it is the sabbath of the LORD in all your dwellings.) and we're clearly urged to not forsake "the assembling of ourselves together" (Hebrews 10:25Not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as the manner of some is; but exhorting one another: and so much the more, as ye see the day approaching.).
Historically, the local church has endured in every age, every culture, every society. The diversity evident in local churches from one corner of the globe to the other shows an astonishing adaptability in the body of Christ. And it can meet the needs of any individual from the youngest child to the oldest saint. And it can minister to any niche in society the church chooses to serve. Even under the most oppressive of governments, God's people have found ways to meet together, whatever the cost. Yes, the local church has always survived, and it will survive this pandemic too!
Personally, I believe the local church is key to finishing the work. The explosion formula we teach at FAST suggests the secret to explosive growth is to combine both evangelism and training together (Acts 19:8-108 And he went into the synagogue, and spake boldly for the space of three months, disputing and persuading the things concerning the kingdom of God. 9 But when divers were hardened, and believed not, but spake evil of that way before the multitude, he departed from them, and separated the disciples, disputing daily in the school of one Tyrannus. 10 And this continued by the space of two years; so that all they which dwelt in Asia heard the word of the Lord Jesus, both Jews and Greeks.). And in my experience, both of these work best when they are organized by and supported through the local church. It is to the church that all the required spiritual gifts are given, it is the church that receives every new convert, and it is the church that nurtures and equips them for service. And the local church can be a huge help in ensuring "all things" are done "decently and in order" (I Corinthians 14:40Let all things be done decently and in order.).
To be most effective in finishing the work of the Great Commission, we should press together, not drift apart. Rather than shifting our focus from the local church, we should be looking for ways to strengthen it, "and so much the more, as ye see the day approaching" (Hebrews 10:25Not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as the manner of some is; but exhorting one another: and so much the more, as ye see the day approaching.). For those interested in studying this topic further, I recommend taking our 10-day course on the prophetic destiny of the church called The Movement.
Our Mission at FASTFor many years, our stated mission at FAST has been to bring cutting-edge, Bible-centered tools and training to the world. We're just one small voice in a big wide world, but we believe our emphasis on personal discipleship is important, and worth promoting. That our training on topics like the following is vital and urgently needed:
Bible inspired prayer
But the reality is, we can only help a small percentage of believers through our online school. Not every one has reliable internet access, the necessary equipment, or an affinity for screen time. Rather, we've taught for years that God's primary plan was for training to happen in the local church. Person to person. Face to face. That "every church should be a training school for Christian workers" (CS, p 58). And I've long believed our ministry was primarily called to provide resources and support to help equip local trainers. If anything, we should be focusing even more strongly at FAST on offline training.
That's where the real victories will happen. The real transformations. The real miracles. As each believer takes up the work of helping those they can--in their local church.
Creative SolutionsWith a little creative thinking, I believe FAST can do an even better job facilitating this. And through the remaining weeks of 2020 my hope is to dramatically shift how we serve our partner churches. Here's just a few of the ideas I have in mind:
A Revised Discipleship Track
For some time we've been wanting to shift our discipleship track slightly to include a different third component: Revival Keys. In my experience running multiple teams at my church, I noticed two things. One, most people need more time to better internalize the principles of discipleship. And two, graduates weren't well equipped to share the revival they were experiencing with others in the church. So our Revival Keys program was developed to assist with both of those needs. We've already been busy reworking all our leaders resources to focus on that course, have polished up the lessons, and will soon have the Teachers Guide out. Which means we're ready at last to pull the plug and complete that switch 100%. End result: we're confident this will make your local training class even more effective than ever before.
Prayer Meeting Resources
One of the updates I released last week was a new teacher resources page for our short courses. While these weren't designed for small groups, in many ways they make the perfect resource for prayer meeting (once churches start up again). The new page gives you links to individual lessons for each reading with or without worksheets making it super easy to adapt these classes to your needs. A pastor or elder can print these out, discuss the reading together, fill in the worksheets, and still have plenty of time for sharing and prayer. Adding up all the courses in our current library, we have ready to use training for a good three years! And more classes are coming...
Local Correspondence Schools
Here's another idea, that could be a game changer in many churches: offering FAST training as a correspondence study program--both for inreach and outreach. Besides our short courses, we have more than a dozen complete study guides programs that while designed for small groups could be easily adapted to mail-based approach. Appoint someone to lead the school, supply a small bit of funding for envelopes and postage, and throw in a bit of promotion--and you could have a whole new way of connecting with members. While it may not be face to face, it is far more personal since it is with people you know in your own church, and it's easy to catch up during the worship service or by phone. I'm currently working on special software and some helpful teacher resources to make setting this up a snap, and God willing, hope to have this more or less in place by the end of the year!
Church Memorization Training
And last but not least, I think we can do a better job promoting memorization in the local church. In addition to multiple big improvements to our memory tools at FAST, last week I finished up a brand new class called Magnetic Church. This class is designed to pull together training we've shared before in various places about different ways to promote memorization specifically in the local church in an exciting new format. Everything from promoting memorization of the verses in the quarterly to memorizing whole books of the Bible together as a congregation. The course is already uploaded, and ready to go, but I haven't unlocked it quite yet, as I still need to create a couple more tools (one was our Partners Checklist) to make implementation of the suggestions in this course as easy as possible, but we're close. And I'm super excited...
There are probably other things we can do. Next year, our big priority is going to be getting our Youtube channel going at last, and begin offering whole new kinds of resources. Perhaps that could lead to things like field schools in local churches. At some point I would also like to do a big refresh of the Care Group resources in our leaders library to provide better support for local team leaders. And I've even been thinking about uploading sermon outlines for all the messages in our media center (over 300 messages!) as a way to resource pastors and lay preachers. Not something I normally do, but I have most of them...
Maybe you can think of additional ways to serve our churches too.
But the point is, it's time to be flexible. Creative. Nimble. And as always, strategic. The difficult times we're facing right now, rather than discouraging us, should motivate us to seek new ways to fulfill the glorious mission of the local church. If we do, God will be sure to bless...
CommentsHow important is the local church in the finishing of the work? How important is it to press together, now, especially. What do you think of our ideas for better resourcing churches? Anything stand out to you as especially helpful? Anything else you would love to see? Share you thoughts below...
|Posted by Shirley Phillips on 12/20/20|
|Thanks Dan, I will pass your greeting to Paul and the rest of the gang! :) Blessings to you and Vi and our precious Becca.|
|Posted by Dan Vis on 12/19/20|
|That's awesome Shamillia. The church is super important. We actually have a whole class you might enjoy on that topic called The Movement. Take it if you get a chance. One of my favorite classes here at FAST!
You are so welcome Shirley. It's always a blessing to hear from you, or any of my dear family back in Illinois. We miss you all so much too! Say hi to Paul and the rest of the gang! :)
Another confirmation Berith that we're on the right track. If you check out the guides sheets for any of our classes not you can see we've changed the layout so you can print out individual readings and/or worksheets now, or both. I probably need to go through and touch up some these a bit to get the page spacing perfect, but having individual lessons should help.
If you have any ideas for how to better support churches that want to use our resources in prayer meeting or a similar context, let me know...
|Posted by Shirley Phillips on 12/18/20|
|Dan what an inspiring plan, I love it, thank you so much. We need our Churches. Miss you.|
|Posted by Dan Vis on 12/15/20|
|Thanks David, as always, for the enthusiasm, and for your encouragement regarding these plans. Glad you are taking The Movement. It was my favorite class of 2020. And though we've had Revival Keys out since 2019, I feel much better about it with the recent upgrade, which really polished things up and nailed things down.
As for the correspondence schools, I'm really looking forward to getting that going--though not sure I'll have that done in time for 2021. Still, maybe. Most churches are so jam packed it's hard to make room for real discipleship training. I'm hoping this will prove a way to support churches without having to squish something else out. It's still plan B, but its a plan!
|Posted by David Grabe on 12/14/20|
|Greetings & Blessings in the Solicitous, Sagacious, and Spacious name of Jesus Christ our Lord & Saviour,
Amen to this Memo, Pastor Dan! I WHOLEHEARTEDLY AGREE with what you shared here! I especially resonated with your statement:
"To be most effective in finishing the work of the Great Commission, we should PRESS TOGETHER, not drift apart. Rather than shifting our focus from the local church, we should be looking for way to strengthen it, "and so much the more, as ye see the day approaching" (Hebrews 10:25Not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as the manner of some is; but exhorting one another: and so much the more, as ye see the day approaching.)."
I AM SIGNED UP FOR "THE MOVEMENT." I love all the ideas, but especially the REVIVAL KEYS &
the LOCAL CORRESPONDENCE SCHOOLS! I believe these are "right on" for the present conditions, and will, as you said, "be a game changer" for our local congregations.
Again, Pastor Dan, PTL for all you are doing to magnify, motivate, and mobilize "such an army of workers as our youth(and the old geezers like me!), rightly trained, might furnish, HOW SOON the message of a crucified, risen, and soon-coming Saviour might be carried to the whole world! How soon might the end come, -the end of suffering and sorrow and sin! How soon, in place of a possession here, with its blight of sin and pain, our children might receive their inheritance where the righteous shall inherit the land, and dwell therein forever;" where the inhabitant shall not say, 'I am sick," and 'the voice of weeping shall be no more heard." Education 271
Then let us lay aside every weight, and the sin that so easily besets us. Hebrews 12:1,2Wherefore seeing we also are compassed about with so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which doth so easily beset us, and let us run with patience the race that is set before us, . . . Looking unto Jesus the author and finisher of our faith; who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is set down at the right hand of the throne of God.
Then let us go forth to show forth the praises of Him who has called us out of darkness into His marvelous light. I Peter 2:9But ye are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, an holy nation, a peculiar people; that ye should shew forth the praises of him who hath called you out of darkness into his marvellous light;
And let be confident in THIS VERY THING, that He which has begun a good work in you, will complete it unto the day of Jesus Christ." Philippians 1:6Being confident of this very thing, that he which hath begun a good work in you will perform it until the day of Jesus Christ:
|Posted by Dan Vis on 12/14/20|
|Sounds like you're already doing the advanced discipleship track Laurie!|
|Posted by Laurie Wissink on 12/14/20|
|Oh, advanced discipleship? Biblical counseling? Lay pastoring? Sign me up Dan!|
|Posted by Lana Rose on 12/14/20|
|Great ideas! Praying the Lord will help me know how to implement them in my life and our local church and community!|
|Posted by Patricia Jones on 12/14/20|
|Love it. Thanks for all you do. I see it as a key for us moving forward. Pray we can get local buy-in.|
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