State of the Church 2012

I delivered this report at our annual meeting on Sunday night. I wanted to make it today’s blog post in the interest of informing those who could not attend.

Overall, I praise God that I sense before the Lord that the state of Orlando Grace is better than it ever has been for as long as I have served among her leadership in one way or another since January of 2001. I base that on the following considerations.

First, we are at peace and have been so consistently for nearly ten years. Not only that, but our commitment to and proficiency in the biblical practices of peacemaking continue to increase. This is no small matter, particularly in a season when, for going on two years now, we have undertaken the construction of a facility. That we have experienced only a very few bumps along this road in the way of disagreements and, to my knowledge, have resolved those impasses where necessary through conflict coaching and mediation, is a great mercy to a church that wants to reflect the unity in the Godhead by the unity of its people. I plead with us to see this project to the end with a high commitment to preferring others over ourselves and guarding ourselves from trampling one another underfoot as we may zealously campaign for a preference or concern for how something is done or what it looks like.

Second, and this is related to the first consideration, we are a people committed to godliness of behavior, agodliness more and more fueled by the power of the gospel to transform us and not our own legalistic effort. A combination of elements seems to have converged to help us in this regard. My own regard for the importance of the gospel and the need to motivate from the gospel and only the gospel both in my preaching and in pastoral care is something the Lord has drilled into me, sometimes quite painfully, over the last year like never before. The influence of the Acts 29 Network has contributed to that for me personally, and though we still have yet to forge officially a strategic alliance with an association, denomination or network, whether Acts 29 or some other entity, even informal cooperation with these churches serves us well to this gospel end.

In addition to that, curricula like How People Change in our growth groups and other gospel-shaped resources serve to keep us from experiencing more bouts of gospel amnesia than we might otherwise suffer. Our leadership is more focused on the gospel than ever before and I believe we as a people are orienting our lives more thoroughly around the gospel as well. This is huge and must ever remain a principal concern for the wellbeing of our assembly. For this reason and by God’s mercy and His providence, our experience of church discipline has remained confined for quite some time now to only steps one and two of Matthew 18:15-18 and only rarely has even the threat of step 3 – tell it to the church – come into play in the shepherding of our people. In that God is holy, and means for His church to reflect that holiness in the way it conducts itself in the world, this too, I believe makes me a happy pastor and servant in His church, saying much indeed is well.

Third, our march toward building our first-ever church home has resulted in our taking a hard look at areas of weakness and seeking to address them with God’s help. For example, we have tackled our weaknesses in community by multiplying growth groups. We now have more than ever before with nine different groups total, I believe. The Soul Talk curriculum of the fall quarter equipping hour and the Graces of Gospel Shaped Community sermon series last year saw us make strides also in learning better how to love one another. And I watched our people come through heroically in most recent crises in the Mangrich and Willson households where we put our best loving feet forward to those facing crushing need. As the church is meant to mirror the love within the Godhead, this growth in community and love, not the only expressions mind you, but some of them, stands out as a reason for rejoicing.

Another significant way we have improved as we think about opening a building, doubling our space, and likely growing in significant ways, is the overhauling of our Christian Education and nursery/childcare ministries. The addition of the Praise Factory program for children as a gospel-shaped curriculum is enormously important in the way our church comes along side of our families in educating their children in the fear and admonition of the Lord. The addition of Katie Fairey to our staff as the coordinator of the nursery ministry, along with Evan her husband’s help and the help of a number of others has led to a far better stewardship of the protection and welfare of our little ones that should make us all sleep better at night knowing that those most vulnerable in our midst have policies and procedures in place to secure their best of care.

Much progress has been made in the realm of discipleship as well. Kudos to the CE evaluation and subcommittee chaired by Will Powell as they have led us into our three year scope and sequence adult equipping hour curriculum overseen by Scott Devor and launched in January of this year. We now possess an identifiable, strategic curriculum for adults that addresses a comprehensive number of classes and emphases that once completed constitute legitimately a body of knowledge, if consistently applied in everyday life, that will contribute to our living more than ever as fully devoted followers of Jesus.

Operation Nehemiah, what we have called the rebuilding of the walls at OGC ever since our last major conflict in the summer of 2012, while largely finished, continues in some strategic ways. Building a facility and having our own church home has always been one of the nine action steps related to that campaign for church wholeness and health. We are drawing so close to completing arguably the most challenging of those steps. We gave last year in hard work to it. We are giving this year in even harder work to it. When concluded, and I remind you we have undertaken the task in a recession economy with nearly everyone pitching in through sacrificial giving so that God gets the glory and not us, we will no longer be an invisible entity in the community but rather possess a visible and permanent presence that will result making ministry in the community more viable in so many tangible ways. And we, the covenant members of OGC, during this season are the ones who have gotten to do this. No one else. It has been our privileged stewardship. No one will regret that reward. Heaven will make amends for every sacrifice.

Of course there remain concerns for the future. We have ministry areas that need leadership. I am pleased to report that there are some women who have been praying about stepping into leadership of an overall women’s ministry at OGC. We hope in this year to form a women’s ministry team. If you have an interest in serving on that team for a year or so, let your elder know. Similarly, we have someone interested in taking point in a local outreach team, a team which has been somewhat dormant due to a lack of leadership other than my own limited time to contribute to it. And this leads to areas of concern related to completion of Operation Nehemiah that lie before us.

  1. Continued growth in a missional commitment as a congregation. Whether that means church-wide and/or group participation in mercy ministry or other strive-for-the-welfare-of-the-city kinds of initiatives, or the commitment of each covenant member to pray for unbelieving people and to engage them in the places where we live, work, and play, or initiative evangelism in public places and from door-to-door for those who thrive in that kind of thing, we need to continue to turn up the heat on the thermostat of our commitment to outreach. Praise God that I hear more and more people asking for prayer for lost people, their sharing their faith with lost people, and making time to build relationships so that there is opportunity to be salt and light and reap souls where God might bring a harvest.
  2. We must solve our staffing issues with the potential of losing three of four support staff in Greg, Evan, and Katie. As you can imagine, this is number one on my list of concerns in a year when the obligations of ministry will likely spike with the opening of our facility that we would lose such valuable servants. That being said, I am trusting God that He has replacements in such a case or volunteers or both, who will come to serve in strategic ways in our church. We will not lack His supply.
  3. We still need to pursue affiliation options and pray for God’s direction in this regard. That being said, I rejoice that between the Spurgeon Fellowship and Acts 29 regional Gospel Cohort, we are not isolated. We have churches to whom we can turn if we have need and to whom we can lend aid if necessary.
  4. In 2013, Lord willing, we need to tackle the first-ever revision of our by-laws. Something to look forward to as God leads.

I am certain a great deal more could be said about the state of OGC. However, concerns notwithstanding, God has been very good to us and we have every reason to trust that He will do nothing but good to us in hard and sweet providences alike in the days ahead.

Praise be to His excellent name.

A Biblical Vision for the Church

Pastor Mark Dever has a message from 1 Corinthians up on the audio portion of the 9Marks site. I listened to it last week.

He entitled it A Biblical Vision for the Church. Essentially he argues that the church exists for God and that the thing that should constrain us more than anything else in terms of our participation in a local church is that perspective.

From that starting point he goes on to articulate from various places in the epistle how the local church is to be three things: holy, unified, and loving. He reasons that because God Himself is these things, which he shows from the text as well, we should reflect these things in our churches.

It means we can’t afford to overlook things like church discipline.

It means we can’t fragment into divisions that center on various personalities.

It means we ought to bend over backwards in deferring to one another in showing love.

He finishes with how the gospel informs all those things. He pleads with the listener to evaluate his church in these terms.

It’s a worthwhile investment of about fifty minutes.

Check it out. You can listen to the audio here.

How to Question Officer Candidates

This Sunday evening at 6 PM at the SDA we will have a very important congregational meeting. Open to members and attendees alike, in this 90 minute gathering we will engage our three officer candidates in Q & A about their nomination for church leadership positions.

This is no small thing. Our bylaws require confirmation of all candidates by no-less than 75% vote of the assembled membership. That vote, Lord willing, will occur after the worship service on January 8, 2012. In order to be able to affirm or deny responsibly depends on having at least some knowledge of these men.

We have already sent out copies of their testimonies to everyone concerned, so unless you have some point of clarification on any of their stories, there is no need to question them about how they came to Christ. Where we must focus our attention in questioning each prayerfully, humbly, and respectfully is in terms of how God judges a man’s fitness for office, namely, character (including family life), doctrine, and philosophy of church ministry/leadership.

For those who find posing questions in a public forum in front of a microphone a bit intimidating but still would like to do so, feel free to email me your submission to me at revheff@gmail.com and the elders will do our best to take it into account. Child care will be provided for the little ones.

Hope to see you there!

A Crucial Question About Church Membership

That would be how long should someone attend a church before deciding to commit to covenant membership?

Good question. And a pertinent one for the twenty or more folks currently working their way through the latest edition of Discover OGC.

I came across this post by Brian Croft on his blog Practical Shepherding. He asks some other strategic questions that ought to come into play in determining the answer to the timing question. These include:

  1. Is this a church where my family will be regularly fed by God’s Word?
  2. Is this a church where I am convinced the care of my soul will be a priority?
  3. Is this a church where my family will experience meaningful Christian fellowship and accountability?
  4. Is this a church where I can serve God’s people and use my gifts for its benefit?

He concludes most wisely, I think, with this:

There is one essential element that must exist in this process.  It is the key to possessing the zeal required in this search.  That is, a constant feeling of uneasiness that should exist in you knowing you and your family are not in covenant fellowship with a local church and are not under the authority of undershepherds caring for your souls.  The freedom and absence of accountability many experience in the search for a new church can cause a sinful complacency.  In other words, you do not ever want to become comfortable being one of God’s sheep who has wandered away from the fellowship of the flock and the accountability of shepherds to care for you, even if that journey at the time feels fun and exciting.

To read the entire post click here.

Pray with me that the folks investigating our church at the present time will know from the Lord the answer to these and 0ther crucial questions in their church for a church home.

Officer Candidate Process Update

This Saturday is a big day. A number of our current elders and deacons will meet with our three candidates for office from 8 AM to 3 PM at the church office. Each of the three, two for elder and one for deacon, have completed their written exams. We will meet with them, one at a time, for 90 minutes each on Saturday to follow up with an oral exam.

The oral exam covers questions related to each candidate’s personal testimony, his fitness for office given the qualifications in First Timothy 3 and Titus 1, and his doctrine and philosophy of ministry particularly with respect to leadership. Following each interview and the dismissal of the candidate, we will debrief for thirty minutes to share our initial impressions from the interview and commit to any follow up communication or action steps we deem necessary.

As soon as we possibly can after this Saturday we will announce to the congregation who we intend to put forth as candidates for office. A date and time will be included for the congregational Q & A of each one. This is a rigorous process overall, for everyone concerned, especially this Saturday for those who will examine all three candidates. We would covet your prayers both for the candidates and us as officers as we continue to steward this most important aspect of our ministry.

6 Reasons to Be a Faithful Member of a Local Church

A friend of mine in ministry posted a link on Facebook to an article about church membership.

I am so grateful for over twenty-five folks in this fall’s edition of Discover OGC! I am looking forward tomorrow to sharing with them about the doctrines of grace.

Here is #3 of the reasons in this post:

You become a more committed part of a spiritual family. Joining a local church demonstrates a certain level of commitment. It shows that you want to be more than a bystander, that you want to be involved in ministry in a more significant way. Joining a local church is like entering into a covenant relationship with other believers in order to love them as an active part of a spiritual family (1 Jn 4:7). We also need the spiritual oversight and soul care of faithful shepherds (Heb 13:17).

I couldn’t agree more. You can read the entire piece here.

The Trouble with Community

That’s easy.

Christians. Saints by position in Christ who still act like pagans in sin. No matter how spiritual believers become, while in the flesh, the potential for relapse ever remains a threat.

In my role as a pastor, occasionally I take the heat for the local church body by receiving complaints about real and/or perceived breakdowns in its expression of community. These trouble me, especially the ones I cause by my own lapses into gospel amnesia that lead to legalism or license in my own life. I pray and labor to find ways to correct our imperfections.

I think a sermon series like The Graces of Gospel-Shaped Community like we are giving ourselves to for the rest of this year at OGC can tend to spur us on to greater heights and depths of community. Certainly I pray and labor for that in multiple ways. But the downside of such an emphasis is that it can serve to highlight our failures and weaknesses in community too. And that can lead to discouragement, if we don’t take care to keep things in perspective.

Something helping me in that regard is to remember the nature of the first century church. We really can’t afford to romanticize the experience of the New Testament church. That kind of thinking tends to reveal itself in comments like, If we could only be like the church of the first century, that would fix everything wrong with our church.

Nothing could be farther from the truth. The fact that we have so many one-another passages in the New Testament is due to the fact that the assemblies of the first century experienced their fair share of sinful dysfunction and more. In fact, we wouldn’t likely have some of the precious one another passages of the Bible, if it weren’t for the troubles of a church like Corinth for example.

This Sunday’s text from 1 Corinthians 11:17-34 illustrates this perfectly. The Corinthian saints got so out of whack in their fellowship that they abused one another in the taking of the Lord’s Supper. God got so miffed at them for their offenses that He judged some with sickness and death (v. 30)! If you want to know the cause of the Lord’s wrath on this occasion, don’t miss this Sunday’s sermon – The Grace of Waiting. I know, I have no shame, but I refuse to let the exegetical cat out of the bag before its time.

I could cite similar historical and contextual instances from other books of the New Testament, but I think you get the point.

So while we take seriously our failures in community with a view to allowing the gospel to shape us more thoroughly toward improvement, let’s remember that we have ample evidence from the New Testament that sinners living in community will trouble one another.

And that’s exactly why we need to be in community — gospel-shaped, grace-laden, Christ-exalting, Spirit-empowered community.

37 Ways to Love One Another

Someone sent me a link with a thorough list of the one another passages of the New Testament confirming my notion that they all constitute intricacies of the ultimate grace of loving within our relationships in the body of Christ.

The author introduces the list with this provocative assertion:

A local church is not built by one man, or even a few men, but by every believer being actively involved in ministry through evangelizing the lost people in their lives and serving their fellow Christians. A quick glance at the practice of the New Testament church reveals that they thought very little about programs and very much about relationships.

For more of his thoughts as well as the complete list of the one another passages for your study and prayer click here.

Time for a Check Up?

Spiritual that is.

Thabiti Anyabwile has written a 9Marks book to help church members assess the state of their spiritual health. It’s called What Is a Healthy Church Member? He proposes that you can identify a healthy church member by ten marks.

  1. Expositional listener
  2. Biblical theologian
  3. Gospel saturated
  4. Genuinely converted
  5. Biblical evangelist
  6. Committed member
  7. Seeks discipline
  8. Growing disciple
  9. Humble follower
  10. Prayer warrior

How do you fare a first glance? Would you call yourself in excellent health spiritually or do you have some deficiencies to ask the Lord to help you with? This little read will help you. I’m taking a chapter a day in my quiet time and using the marks as prayer fodder for working my way through our directory. Care to join me?