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I'M OPTMISTIC



 

Five Reasons I’m More Optimistic Than Ever

Craig Groeschel

Church Now/Church Next Conference

 

I've been in ministry now for 30 years. I've had the honor of leading Life Church for 25 years. So, you could say I've seen some stuff, I've seen some stuff. And I have never seen as much stuff as I've seen in the last year. Amy and I were at a pastors’ conference and I'm talking to pastors and the volume of pain and discouragement and disorientation, it's impossible to describe to you. People don't know which way is up. They don't know where their churches are. They don't know where they stand with people. And there was more of a sense of hopelessness and confusion and disorientation than I've ever seen in the history of my leadership. So, what I want to do in this session is tell you with all of my heart, with everything in me, without any hesitation, with the deepest integrity that I have, I want to tell you that I'm completely optimistic about the role of the church, the future in the church, and tell you why I'm optimistic about the church and more so today than I ever have been before.


Let's talk about the good news and the bad news. Which do you want first? I'm

going to give you the good news first. The good news is first. The good news is

this, that as pastors, whatever you're leading, the next time we experience a

global pandemic, racial tensions, social unrest, the explosion of the cancel culture,

political division in an election year, the next time we experienced all that, we will

be prepared. We've got a little bit of experience that none of us had before. The

bad news is, right now, our world is a mess and people are hurting and they're

depressed, and they are afraid, and so many people are hopeless. And I'm

convinced that it's going to take decades before we fully understand the toll that

this complicated season is taking on people.


There's the economic impact, especially on the poor, all over the world. There's

the threat of mental health and spiritual health and the cost to marriages and

relationships. We know that the depression rate is soaring and that, tragically,

suicides are increasing, especially amongst the younger generation. Porn

consumption, which was always a problem, is up. Substance abuse is up.

Domestic violence is up. And I want to start by saying, this takes a toll on us as

spiritual leaders. During normal times, it's difficult to lead as a pastor. Now it's so

complicated and you know this. If you don't open up your church, you've got no

faith, Pastor, you're caving into the government. If you do open up your church,

you're risking people's lives. You're careless. Then you've got all the complications

about people's opinions about the vaccine and about the mask and so on. It's

incredibly complicated and can be so discouraging for spiritual leaders all over the

world.


So what I want to do today is I just going to reveal my cards. I want to bring some

hope, and I'm going to tell you the five reasons why I'm more optimistic than I

ever have been for the role and the mission of the bride of Christ that we call the

church. Why am I more optimistic? Five reasons.


Number one is personal. And that is because God used the church to change my life. God used the church to significantly transform my life. I'm going to try to give you just the short list of some of the events that happened in my life, because of the church. The first

thing, when I was five or six years of age or so, my mom told me that we went to

a communion service, and I knelt down, and after communion I told her that I felt

like I was supposed to be a pastor. Who does that at the age of five or six?

I remember then as a teenager at youth group, feeling drawn to God, drawn by

his Spirit, wanting to know him, but yet not completely knowing what to do.

When I was a senior, and this sounds kind of weird, I was the president of my

youth group. And as the president of my youth group is when I realized I probably

wasn't a Christian, because they asked me to pray over an event and I recognized

I didn't know how to pray. When I went to college, I fell into a lot of sin. How

many of you did that in college? Yeah. How many of you know, sinning can be fun

for a little while? It can be fun for a while. If you don't raise your hand, you know,

you didn't do it right. Or you're lying, you know, one or the other. And I fell into

sin.


And somebody gave me a little Bible, a free Gideon Bible. And I started reading

the Bible and my life was transformed by Ephesians, chapter two, when I read

that you're saved by grace and not by works, and you know what I did, I just went

to church by myself. I don't know why, but I just went to church. I went to church,

and I made new friends that I needed, in church. Before I was a Christian, I

thought everybody was a Christian. I thought everybody in my little Oklahoma

world was a Christian. After I became a Christian, I thought none of those people

were Christians. And I met some Christian friends and I started to spiritually grow

and I was discipled and started to become more like Jesus, in the church.


When I was in the church, a guy I didn't know, gave me a Bible with my name

engraved on it. It was a whole Bible, not just a New Testament, like the free one I

got, given to me by somebody at the church. I heard about Amy from someone in

the church. They said, you should go out with her. And I did. Our first date was a

Bible study at her church. We started growing together spiritually and we felt

called to go into ministry in the church. I actually proposed to her (guess where?)

at the church. We did our wedding preparation and our wedding vows in the

church. I preached my first sermon in the church. I was called by God to start Life

Church, and this is when it got really fun, in a little two car garage, for 25 years.

My closest friends, my fellow spiritual warriors have been in the church. I've had

the highest of highs and the lowest of lows, all in the church.


All six of my children came to faith in Christ through the church. We're all

baptized in the church. Listen to me. They know who they are in Christ because of

the church. They were raised in the church. My three oldest daughters, they all

married three boys that they met. Where do you think they met them all, in

church? All three boys happened to be on my staff in the church where I can

watch over them and make sure their godly ministry is doing what they're

supposed to do. Well, once you understand this, that everything that's meaningful

in my life, it revolves around the church. And this is not because I’m the pastor,

it’s because I'm a follower of Christ. And what I'm guessing is because you're here

today, chances are you have a similar story, that your life is different because of

the work of the Spirit of God through his bride called the church. One of the

reasons why I'm so optimistic is because God has always transformed lives in the

power of the community of the church. It’s personal to me, the spirit of God

changes lives through the church.


The second reason I'm optimistic is because Jesus said, “I will build the church.”

And the interesting thing is the church has always endured. Think about it. Jesus is

the one who said, “I will build my church,” that the very first person to mention

the church in all the Bible was Jesus. You may know the story. He was with his

disciples. He gave them a little pop quiz. He said, “Who do people say that I am?”

And they had all sorts of answers. Some say, John the Baptist, Elijah, Jeremiah,

one of the prophets. He looked at Peter and said, “Peter, who do you say I am?”

And Peter said, “You are the Messiah, the son of the living God.” And what did

Jesus say? Jesus said, “On this rock,” then what did he say? He said, “I will build

my church and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.” Jesus said that he

would build the church and the church has endured.


Would you pause with me for just a moment and think about what the church has

endured? Go all the way back to the persecution of the first century, when

followers of Jesus were stripped naked and hung on a cross, just like Jesus,

publicly shamed. When they were burned at the stakes, when they were covered

in animal skins and fed to lions in the middle of the Colosseum for entertainment

purposes. Think about what they endured, think about the contemporary

persecution that Christians experience today. Even in our lifetime, a line of brave

Jesus followers kneeling down and being beheaded on a beach. The church has

endured. Think about the moral failures and the corruption and the heresy and

the scandals in the church, and the church has endured. Think about the rise of

humanism and think about the threats of the wars in our nation. The civil war.

Think about World War One. Think about World War II, and the church has

endured. Pandemics. People say, “Well, these are unprecedented times.” Let me

just tell you honestly, there's nothing new. Pandemics are nothing new. They

swept through the world before and the church not only survived, but the church

thrived.


You go through the list of the pandemics, a very short and partial list. In the

second century, a 15-year-long pandemic took the lives of one third of the Roman

empire, one third of the population. The bubonic plague, 25 million lives or so.

Tragic. The black death. They estimate between a hundred million and 200 million

lives lost. The flu pandemic in 1918, just a century ago. 20 to 50 million deaths,

depending on who's estimating. You know what the church did? Do you know

what the church did? When the world ran out, The church ran in and there were

brave followers of Jesus who risked their lives to show and serve people in the

name of Jesus and the church didn't die, and the church didn't stop meeting and

the church didn't die, the church thrived and they continue to meet just like what

God did.


Who is Jesus? He is the incarnation, he is God in the flesh. God didn't shout his

love from heaven, what did he do? He showed his love on earth and the church

has endured and the church will continue to endure. I'm really optimistic. You

have no idea how much faith I have.


I believe in the church because God used the church to change my life.

I believe in the church because Jesus said he would build it.

The third thing is this. I believe, and I'm optimistic because 'the resistance,

disappointments and the pain, it's made us stronger. What you have endured in

the last year, 18 months, it's made you stronger.

Pastor Mike, when we go to the gym and we work out together, we don't get just

strong on this part of the movement, we get strong on the resistance. It's the

resistance that increases our strength.


Think about the devil? What was his plan? What did he want to do? He wanted to

divide churches. He wanted to kill their finances. He wanted us to shut the doors

and never open them again. And what do we have today? Let me promise you, if

your doors are open now, or if they're opening in the future, what you're going to

have is a different type of person that gathers. When they gather, they have what

I call “first-generation passion.” When you're starting a ministry, there's a

different type of person that shows up when you got nothing. They come with a

hunger, they come with a drive, they come with an energy. They come with a

something special. And what you're going to have is, when they do gather, they

come with something different.


I'm going to tell you right now; this season is clearing out what I call

“consumeristic Christianity.” It’s cleaning it out. It's clarifying the mission of the

church, it’s helping us to recognize that we don't just go to a church to meet our

needs, we're not church shopping, we are not spiritual consumers. What are we?

We're the body of Christ. We are spiritual contributors. The church does not exist

for us. We are the church, and we exist for the world. Oh, but it's getting so dark

out there and it's so bad, and we're so divided, and there's so many. They hate us

and there's persecution. And the world's growing darker. As the world grows

darker, guess what? Our light shines brighter. What is happening? I promise you

that even though it's painful, God's going to do something in you and you’re going

to come out on the other side. If you still believe, you're going to believe with an

unshakeable faith. It’s cleaning out the church. It's making us stronger.


The fourth thing that I want you to know is this: I'm optimistic, and I hope you

believe when I tell you I'm optimistic. Number four reason is because the time is

ripe for accelerated innovation. The time is right. Any time there's a disruption, it

does create all sorts of problems, but it also creates all sorts of opportunities, and

we're seeing them right now.


What's funny to me is, back in 2006, to the best of our knowledge, we created the

first church online. It wasn't just a streaming, but it was a church community. And

there were so many pastors who hated that and criticized and said, “That's bad

theology” and “That's not the church.” Well, when all the doors closed, suddenly

everybody became a believer in church online. What's happening right now is, if

you've got spiritual eyes to see, you're going to discover new evangelistic tools

and you'll find new front doors to the church. What I want to encourage you to

do, pastors and leaders, is don't confuse the model and the mission. Do not get so

attached to the model. “Well, this is how we do church, and there is no other,

that's not real church.” No, no, no, don't. Andy Stanley says it this way, he says

“Date your model, marry your mission.” Do not marry the model. Mission is what,

model is the how. The what doesn't change, the how must change.


I love the way Jesus empowered the disciples before he ascended into heaven.

What did he do? He said, “Go into all the world, preach the gospel, make

disciples, baptize in the name of the Father and Son and the Holy Spirit.” He gave

him the what, he gave him the where, he did not give him the how. He did not tell

them how, because the what never changes but the how does. Be careful not to

criticize what you don't understand. When someone starts doing church in a new

way, don't be critical and find reasons to say why that doesn't work, and that's

not real. Instead, find reasons to say, could it work? Is it real? What I'm going to

do is I always want to be a student, not a critic. I would rather come in learning

and asking than knowing it all. And here's my bet. There are some of you, right

now, there's some 20-something year-old right now. And you got an ideal and

everyone else around you may not think is going to work. The time is right, now is

right. And I would encourage you to take some risks, to venture out. This could be

one of the most pivotal times for us to continue what we've done for years and

do something more and do something innovative and reach more people than we

ever have before.


I'm so optimistic. You have no idea how much faith I have for the church.


The fifth reason, and perhaps the most important. Number five is that people are

searching right now. People are searching and the church offers the hope, the

healing and the belonging they need. The church makes a difference. People are

wondering, “What do I do? How do I cope? How do I heal? I feel depressed, I feel

suicidal. My marriage is falling apart. I don't know what to do with my teenagers. I

don't know which way is up. And the church, the bride of Christ, offers people a

place to belong, to heal, to find hope.


In fact, I want to show you some scripture that is pretty meaningful and powerful

to me. Proverbs 31. If you've been around the church world for a long time, when

you think of Proverbs 31, you think of being a godly woman. And if you've ever

read the standards, it makes me glad not to be a woman because it's like really

hard standards. There's more to this chapter than what you might realize. What's

interesting, if you study Proverbs 31, verses 10 through 31 is actually an acrostic

poem. Each of these 22 verses (this is fascinating), each of these 22 verses start

with the consecutive letter of the Hebrew alphabet. Imagine if there were 22

letters in the English alphabet, the first verse was started with “a,” the next one

would “b,” the next one would be “c.” And it's describing this godly woman. Like I

might say for Amy, my bride, she's awesome and she's beautiful and she's Christ, like. A, B, C, each consecutive verse of these 22 verses starts with a consecutive letter of the Hebrew alphabet.


In other words, the perfect bride would exhaust all the letters of the Hebrew alphabet.

Now we know this, that whenever you read God's word, all things point to Christ.

Jesus is the main character of the gospels. He's the main character of the epistles.

He's the main character of the poetry. He's in all the Old Testament. All things

point to Christ. What do we know about the church? The church is the bride of

Christ. What if Proverbs 31 isn't just a chapter to make women feel guilty because

you're not all that. What if chapter 31 is a picture of the husband, Jesus, and his

bride, the church. I'm going to read you some verses out of the TPT translation,

the Passion translation, which is, admittedly, more of a devotional. Some people

say it's not literal, but it's completely beautiful. And what I'm going to do is every

time it talks about the “bride” or the “woman,” I'm going to put in the word

“church.” And every time it talks about the “husband,” I'm going to replace it with

“Jesus” and see, if that were the case, what would it say to us? I'll give you an

example. Proverbs 31, verse 10. This is how it reads, “Who could ever find a wife

like this one, she's a woman of strength and mighty valour. She's full of wealth

and wisdom. The price paid for her was greater than many jewels.” Now I'm

going to substitute Christ and the church and it would go like this: “Who could

ever find, not a wife, but who could ever find a church like this one. Christ’s

church is full of strength and mighty valour. The church is full of wealth and

wisdom. The price paid for the church was greater than many jewels.” See what

we're doing here?


Let's read on. “The church searches out continually to possess that which is pure

and righteous. The church gives out revelation truth to feed others.” Oh, this is

powerful! Verse 18. “The church tastes and experiences a better substance. And

our shining light will not be extinguished no matter how dark the night. She, the

church, is known for her extravagant generosity to the poor for she always

reaches out her hand to those in need.” Watch this. “Her husband, Jesus, is

famous and admired by all. Even her works of righteousness she does for the

benefit of her enemies.” I'm going to edit this next verse a bit. “There are many

valuable and noble ones, but you have ascended above them all. Popularity can

be misleading, and followers and wealth and worldly cloud is vain and so quickly

fades. But the church, the bride of Christ, lives in wonder and the fear of the Lord,

she will be praised throughout eternity.” The church, the church, the church, the

church, the church, the church, the church, the church, the church, the church.

People are searching and the church offers hope, healing, and the belonging that

they need. The church I'm optimistic, God used the church to change my life.

Jesus said, “I'll build the church.” We're getting stronger in the middle of this

opposition. People need the church.


If I could be real transparent with you, in the early season of the changes in the

world, I became really discouraged, unlike I'd ever been before. At first, I was

disoriented, then I was discouraged, then I was depressed. Depressed.

Wondering, have the last 25 years of my life building, how has that gone in vain?

Will we ever have anything back special? Will the church ever be the church

again? And what I found is that there are defining moments in your life. And you

rarely know when you're in the middle of one of those moments. You generally

don't know until you look back at that moment. Is that right, Pastor Mike?” In

your life, how many times, you don't know in the moment, but you look back and

say, “Oh, that was a defining moment.” When God gave us the faith or God gave

us the wisdom or whatever. And I was actually in the middle of one of those

moments, when I recognized it was a defining moment. It was in early May, when

churches in our part of the world still could not meet, and we had no idea what

was to come. And we had been planning on opening up two new churches. We

were going to break ground on full-blown expensive churches in new states. And

we sat in a meeting. So what do we do?


Because everybody I knew was shutting down anything like that, because things

were too unstable, too uncertain. No one would be crazy enough to break ground

on a church in the middle of a global pandemic. We don't know if anybody's going

to come. We don't know what's going to happen. And we sat there and we prayed

and all of us looked up with tears in our eyes, and I knew it right then it was one

of those moments. It revealed what we believed. And we all said, “Put the shovel

in the ground, break the dirt and let the church be built.”


Why? Because I believe people need the church. I have faith for it. Faith for it.

When no one was gathering, what are we? We're faith-filled, big thinking, bet the

farm, risk takers. We will never insult God with small thinking or safe living. That's

why I'm not afraid anymore, and I'm not depressed, and I'm not discouraged, and

I'm not holding back. In fact, I'm so not, not, not, not, not, I did some research in

the Bible just to find out when the Bible said “not.” And I want to show you just

some verses of why we should not be afraid and not be discouraged and not give

up. I'll show you a few verses that have “not” in the Bible.


Here's what I know. An angel appeared at the birth of Jesus and the angel said,

“Do not be afraid. I bring you good news with great joy.” Why did Jesus come? I'll

tell you why he did not come. He did not come for the healthy, but he came for

the sick. He didn't come for the righteous, but he came for some people like you

and some people like me, he came for the sinners. I'm told by God's word that we

are not of this world. Jesus said, “Do not live by bread alone. But by every word

that proceeds from the mouth of God.” Jesus does not lead us into temptation

but delivers us from evil. He told us “Do not store up for yourselves treasures on

earth, but store them up in heaven.” We're told that we walk by faith and not by

sight. God has not given us a spirit of fear, but a power of love and of a sound

mind. I pray like Jesus, “Not my will be done, but your will be done.” I've got good

news for you, and that is this: we're saved by grace and not by works. We do not

set our mind on earthly things, like social media, like the news, but we set our

mind on things above.


We do not become weary in doing good for, at the proper time, Pastor, you will

reap a harvest, if you do not give up. Are we in a battle? Yes, we're in a battle, but

our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, the powers of

this dark world. And we will not be overcome by evil, but we will overcome evil

with good. We do not belong to those who shrink back and are destroyed, but to

those who have faith and are saved. The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise,

but he is always faithful. And that's why, church, we will not grieve like the rest of

mankind who have no hope. We will not give up meeting together. How about

that, church? Because the Lord is our helper and we will not be afraid, because

not everyone who says, “Lord, Lord,” will enter the kingdom of God. And that's

why we are not ashamed of the name of Jesus and the power of the gospel that

brings salvation to everyone who believes.


We're a lot like those first century believers in the book of Acts who cannot stop

talking about what we've seen and heard because my life has been changed by

Jesus through the church. But we have this treasure, Jesus in jars of clay, to show

that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us. We may be hard

pressed on every side, but we're not crushed. We're perplexed, but we're not in

despair. Persecuted, but not abandoned. Struck down, but not destroyed. And

Jesus, the son of God said, “I will build my church and the gates of hell will not

prevail against it.” And that's why I'm not discouraged. And that's why I'm not

afraid. And that's why I'm not backing down. And that's why the church will not

shrink back. “And now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we

can ask, think, or imagine, according to the power that is at work within us, to him

be the glory.” Where? “In the church and in Christ Jesus through all generations,

forever and ever amen.”


And that's why, Pastors, you should not grow weary in doing good, for at the

proper time, I believe you will reap the greatest spiritual harvest of your ministry,

if you do not give up. We are the church. We don't go to a building, it’s who we

are, it's our identity. And we are spiritual leaders. I would invite you to join me

this year at The Global Leadership Summit, where Jesus, the power of the Spirit

will help us lead stronger. And guess what? We don't just lead to a business and

bless everyone that does. But we get to lead people into an eternal relationship,

and we get to serve the bride of Christ, his church. That's why I'm optimistic.

That's why I have faith and I believe your best days of ministry are ahead of you,

and I will see you ahead of me at the Global Leadership Summit this year.

May you be blessed in your coming and blessed in your going as you build the

body of Christ, the church, the church, the church. God bless you guys


 

Five Reasons I’m More Optimistic Than Ever

Craig Groeschel

Church Now/Church Next Conference


OUTLINE

 


1. PERSONAL – GOD USED THE CHURCH TO CHANGE MT LIFE





2. JESUS SAID “I WILL BUILD MY CHURCH.”





3. RESISTENCE, DISAPPOINTMENTS, AND THE PAIN, MAKES US STRONGER






4. THE TIME IS RIPE FOR ACCELERATED INNOVATION






5. PEOPLE ARE SEARCHING --- THE CHURCH OFFERS HOPE, HEALING, and BELONGING



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