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SEVEN THINGS TO LEAN INTO GOD’S INTENDED FUTURE

You may have heard me men3on “leaning into God’s intended future” in other ar3cles or reports. The idea of “lean” is to posi3on yourself in a direc3on. The expression I use means that God has a plan for our future (intended future)—His plan. If God has a divine plan for us, then it is incumbent upon us to posi3on (lean) ourselves toward that plan. As a fellowship, I sincerely believe that we must lean into God’s intended future for us. If we want to see God’s blessings and powerful touch upon our fellowship, we must be in step with Him and follow the leadership of His Spirit in EVERY area of our ministry. In Jeremiah 29:11, God declares, “I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord....” I sincerely believe God has spoken to me over the past few months about His intended plan for the Alabama AG family. There are seven things I believe He has shared with me for us to focus on to accomplish His plan for us. I will share the first of those seven. The first iden3fies a solu3on to a dilemma our na3on is facing. We are facing a shiU in the church’s influence in our na3on. This shiU was happening before the pandemic but may have been amplified due to the pandemic. Gallop states that in 2020, 47% of Americans said they belonged to a church, synagogue, or mosque, down from 50% in 2018 and 70% in 1999. U.S. church membership was 73% in 1937 when Gallup first measured it. It stayed near 70% through 2000 before beginning to decline, to 61% in 2010 and 47% in 2020. The decline in church membership is primarily a func3on of the increasing number of Americans who express no religious preference. Over the past two decades, the percentage of Americans who do not iden3fy with any religion has grown from 8% in 1998-2000 to 13% in 2008-2010 and 21% over the past three years.[1] We see the apparent demon inspired demise of the church in America. American churches have accelerated plateauing[2] and declining[3]over the past three years before the pandemic. The AG church in America was experiencing an 80% plateau and decline rate among its churches before Covid-19. We are experiencing over half of our churches declining and only about 1 in 5 growing. According to Barna, during the pandemic, in his 2020 State of the Church ar3cle, he wrote, “One in three prac3cing Chris3ans has stopped agending church during Covid-19.”[4] We known the demise of the church on American culture has been intensified through the pandemic. Many of our church growth ideas of the past don’t work any longer. So, how do we reignite the flame of church growth? What is church growth? How do we reverse the present declining trend among our churches? Church growth means increasing not only agendance but conversions. If the church has seen a loss in its conversion rate, it has lost its moral influence in the community. If the church has lost its impact within the community, the community suffers spiritually. In order to reverse the moral decline of our communi3es, we must increase the church’s moral influence within those communi3es. What is the answer? Let’s turn to the Bible for answers. The New Testament is clear as to the role and func3on of the local church. The Greek word from which we get the term “church” is ekklesia. It is a compound word made up of the preposi3on ek, “out,” and the verb kaleo, “to call.” In ancient secular Greek, this term was used for an assembly that had gathered for some purpose, such as a legisla3ve assembly. It’s clear that the church was intended to be those within a community that were called out to accomplish a purpose for the One who called them out. Looking back at the urgency of Jesus to return to heaven in Acts 1 and that his followers were to remain in Jerusalem un3l they had received the promise of the Father, which ushered in the birth of the church, it’s evident that the purpose of the church was to con3nue the work of Christ aUer he returned to His Father’s side in heaven. Jesus told us in John 14:12, “Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever believes in me will also do the works that I do; and greater works than these will he do because I am going to the Father.” [1] hgps://news.gallup.com/poll/341963/church-membership-falls-below-majority-first-3me.aspx [2] Plateaued means a church that has ceased to keep up with community growth and is “stalled” or slightly declining. Over the past five years, if a church of 100 has not grown at least 10% (110) or decreased less than 10%, it is considered a plateaued church. [3] Declined means that a church has begun to lose numbers of at least 10% over the past five years. A church of 100 that has dropped to 90 or below over the past five years is considered a declining church. [4] hgps://www.barna.com/research/new-sunday-morning-part-2/

The church’s purpose is to con3nue to do “all that Jesus began to do and teach” (Acts 1:1). We are to carry on the teachings and works of Jesus Christ. By defini3on, the church is the called-out ones in every community to carry out the agenda of the One who called them. This requires a power greater than our own. Paul wrote, “...I write so that you may know how one ought to conduct himself in the household of God, which is the church of the living God...” (1 Tim. 3:15). We are called out to proclaim the truths of Christ and conduct ourselves by them. Jesus told them to remain there in Jerusalem un3l they received the promise of the Father (Acts 1:4). He knew that the task before them wasn’t possible within their wisdom and power. We need His help to proclaim His truths to this genera3on just as the first century church did. For the unregenerate within your community to receive the revela3on to be set free and reborn there must be power that enlightens their hearts to the truth. Jesus told them in John 8:32, “...you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” We are posi3oned within our assigned communi3es to bring light into the darkness. We are proclaimers—preachers of the Gospel. Spreaders of the light! We are also called to demonstrate God’s presence and power in our communi3es. “My preaching was not with en3cing words of man’s wisdom, but in demonstra3on of the Spirit and of power” (1 Corinthians 2:4). The church was never intended to lessen the role of the supernatural in its gatherings but to enhance and yield to its opera3on. Listen to what Paul said: “In order that the manifold wisdom of God might now be made known through the church to the rulers and the authori3es in heavenly places” (Eph. 3:10). We are a place of divine demonstra3on. The whole purpose of the church is to glorify Him, not us. It’s not about building our name in a community but it’s about building His name in the community. So, how do we reverse the downward trend and impact our communi3es and na3on again? We must RETURN to the New Testament paradigm of Spirit-Empowered ministry. I’m not saying we don’t do church with excellence. I am saying we don’t do church without allowing the Spirit to excel among us. We see the impera3ve that Jesus gave his disciples before he leU: to make sure they had received divine empowerment before they agempted to do ministry in his name. As Assemblies of God cons3tuents, we have a history and doctrine anchored to a “Pentecostal Theology.” We theore3cally embrace “Spirit-Empowered” ministry but too oUen fail to embrace it func3onally. We can too oUen emulate 2 Tim. 3:5, “...having the appearance of godliness, but denying its power.” The Apostle Paul said, “...avoid such people” (2 Tim. 3:6). I’m not recommending 50’s/60 Pentecost. I’m recommending 1st Century Pentecost! God has a Spirit-Empowered plan for this genera3on. We must return to the prayer room and call God to return to the church. We used to call that “sucking carpet,” meaning burying our face in the floor and calling on God. The Lord reminded me to challenge the Alabama AG family to focus on renewing ourselves to a fully New Testament Spirit-Empowered ministry among our ministers and churches. We can’t give the community what we don’t have ourselves. Community revival begins at the church. We will never see revival in America un3l we see revival in the leader’s life. We will never see revival in America, and it will see revival in the church. We’re talking about spiritual renewal at the pulpit and in the pew. There are two things we are planning to assist in helping our leaders and churches accomplish God’s plan in this area. 1. School of the Spirit. An intense one-day gathering focusing on the Holy Spirit’s role in the church carrying out God’s plan for their communi3es. The giUs, offices, and func3ons of the Holy Spirit among us. The next one is October 11 at Life Church Birmingham. 2. Acts 2 Journey. We will begin a one-year A2J cohort in the Fall. We will be offering A2J 2.0 with in-depth teaching, assessing, and developing Spirit-inspired plans for the local church to impact its culture. This has been tweaked from previous A2J training to include post-covid adjustments for leaders and teams. This cohort relies heavily upon the leadership of the Holy Spirit while teaching biblically-based New Testament church health concepts. I will share the other 6 things the Lord shared with me for Alabama AG in the near future. I look forward to leading together as we seek God’s intended future for us.


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