Sharing Keys

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The prevailing power of the church is based upon sharing access with others.

The prevailing power of the church is based upon sharing access with others.

Have you ever had a neighbor you’ve shared a key with?

We used to have neighbors who would come over to our house when we were gone for the holidays and get our cat and take the cat to their house, because they said they didn’t want her to be alone on the holidays.

We have neighbors on either side of us now, who have our key and we have theirs. We’ve taken care of each other’s dogs when out of town.

When keys are exchanged there is a relationship. There is trust. There is authority and access.

In Matthew 16:19 Jesus tells his followers, “I will give you keys. These keys have the power and authority of heaven” [my translation].

Keys allow you to access the purpose of the object they are applied. The purpose of a house is for living in it. A key can open the door to enter or close it shut. If it is a car, a key can start it or shut it off. If it is a post office box, a key can unlock or lock it. Keys are all about accessing the intended purpose.

Jesus’ keys are for the purpose of entering the realm of the King. Jesus’ kingdom keys allow access to the space where God rules and reigns. This is where things are as they should be and whatever is brought into God’s realm is made right.

I love Eugene Peterson’s take on Jesus’ words in Matthew, “You will have complete and free access to God’s kingdom, keys to open any and every door: no more barriers between heaven and earth, earth and heaven. A yes on earth is yes in heaven. A no on earth is no in heaven.”

Most of us here can tell a story of how someone used their key to give us access to the kingdom. The prevailing power of the church is based upon sharing access with others. What will you open, close, start, stop, unlock, or lock with the keys you’ve been given?

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Training Better Versus Trying Harder

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Training to be godly is very different from trying to be godly. Trying to be godly doesn’t work, training does.

Training to be godly is very different from trying to be godly. Trying to be godly doesn’t work, training does.

Try harder

When discussing the Christian life with others, advice on how to follow Jesus can easily sound like a push to try harder. Do you ever feel as though you are telling people to do more and more? Do you ever feel like you are merely poking them to be better and act nicer?

Sounds like effort

When Paul tells Timothy to “train yourself to be godly” (1 Timothy 4:7) is he in danger of creating a moralistic do-gooder? What is the difference between training oneself to be godly and trying really hard to be good? Training sounds like effort. Isn’t effort the enemy of the gospel?

Hit the gym!

I studied that passage in 1 Timothy recently. As you may know, the word behind “train” in the verse above is connected to gymnasium. It was the place the olympic athletes would exercise and condition themselves for competition. The KJV uses the word exercise in that verse.

Training not trying

This type of exercise is not an enemy of the gospel. It is the way God transform people into the likeness of Jesus. Training to be like Jesus is very different than trying to be like Jesus.

You train

Imagine being challenged to run 10 miles (at one time). You could get your most encouraging, inspiring friends to do it with you. The best motivational speaker would come talk to you beforehand. Most of you would not finish. You may make the daring effort to finish at the cost of injury and illness. If you were able to do it the reason would be you trained to run.

Stop trying

Trying to run without training can be dangerous. Trying to be godly without training can be just as dangerous to the soul. Bill Hull, in his book Choose the Life, says, “I think Christians should stop trying to be godly and start practicing the disciplines that form pathways to the heart of God and transform us into his likeness.” Do you see the difference between trying and training?

Key to transformation

A similar illustration is made with playing the piano by John Ortberg in his book on spiritual disciplines, The Life You’ve Always Wanted: Spiritual Disciplines for Ordinary People. He writes,

“Respecting the distinction between training and merely trying is the key to transformation in every aspect of life. People sometimes think that learning how to play Bach at the keyboard by spending years practicing scales and chord progressions is the “hard” way. The truth is the other way around. Spending years practicing scales is the easy way to learn to play Bach. Imagine sitting down at a grand piano in front of a packed concert hall and having never practiced a moment in your life. That’s the hard way. This need for preparation, or training, does not stop when it comes to learning the art of forgiveness, or joy, or courage. In other words, it applies to a healthy and vibrant spiritual life just as it does to physical and intellectual activity. Learning to think, feel, and act like Jesus is at least as demanding as learning to run a marathon or play the piano.”

Train wisely

So, effort, in this sense, is not the enemy of the gospel. Training is inextricably linked to the gospel. Being transformed into the likeness of Jesus is not a matter of trying harder, but training wisely.


Are you challenging those you are discipling to the spiritual equivalent of a 10-mile run, without the necessary training? What practices can you help lead people, in order to train them to be godly?

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You Are the Key

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How do we use our key to open up access, not just across the street, but across town, across the nation, and the world?

How do we use our key to open up access, not just across the street, but across town, across the nation, and the world?

Sharing keys with neighbors
Have you ever had a neighbor you’ve shared a key with? We shared keys with Jim and Kathy Lee, next door to our first home. If we were gone for the day, they would get our cat. They didn’t want her to be lonely, so they would keep her at their house. We ended up giving the cat to them.

Giving someone access

We have neighbors on either side of us now, who they have our key and we have theirs (or the garage key code) and we’ve taken care of each other’s dogs when out of town. Neighbors have hired my kids to take care of pets while on vacation. Giving someone access to your home means there is relationship and trust.

Keys are all about access

Keys are all about access. After Jesus’ promise to build his church, he went on to say, “I will give you my keys. These keys have the power and authority of heaven” (my paraphrase of Mt 16:19). Jesus handed his followers his keys. What are the ramifications of this?

Christians making entrance

Craig Blomberg comments, “[T]he imagery of keys that close and open, lock and unlock (based on Isa 22:22) … take the binding and loosing (and Jesus is not just saying this to Peter because in 18:18 he says the same thing and it is in the plural) as referring to Christians’ making entrance to God’s kingdom available or unavailable to people through their witness, preaching, and ministry.”

More open doors

Complaints are often made in the church as to why we don’t see more open doors for the gospel. Three that come to mind are [extra points for the alliteration]:

  1. Resources
  2. Relevance
  3. Receptivity

Resources lacking

People argue that a lack of resources is keeping doors from opening. If only they had more money, were better equipped, or developed more training. It’s not true! We have everything we need to accomplish what God has asked.

Relevancy of the church

People say we need to make ministry more relevant. People criticize the church for not being technologically or culturally relevant. That is always misapplied energy. This probably deserves a separate conversation.

Receptivity of the culture

Others still, complain about the receptivity of the culture. It is true, there are places where gospel growth is faster than other places. Jesus spoke about hearts that produce more growth than others. But the fact is, we can’t blame culture for not being more open to the gospel. The Bible says people are dead in sin. Are we saying people are more dead in some places?

The problem is access

The church does not need more resources. Our problem is not relevancy. I don’t think we should even pray for more receptivity. The problem is access. Jesus has left the building of the church to our utilization of the keys he’s given us. It’s up to us to share access with others. We are the key!

Jay Pathak and Dave Runyon offers a great exercise for living a life of access in their book The Art of Neighboring. Draw a tic-tac-toe box with you in the middle and write down the names of the neighbors around you. If you don’t know their names, that’s the first step. If you can name them, are you praying for them? If not, that’s the second step. Then create a practical plan for how to give them access to your life. For me, taking a van full of neighborhood kids to Awana that has been one way of creating access.

We are the key

How do we use our key to open up access, not just across the street, but across town, across the nation, and the world? Access becomes an acute descriptor when we realize there are areas of the world which will never have access to the gospel unless someone from the outside uses their key to go to them.

When it comes down to it, we are the key! We are the bearers of the gospel message. The issue is not resources, relevance, or receptivity. The issue is accessibility. Our lives in proximity to others is what opens access to the gospel.

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Seeking Versus Encountering

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Peanut Encounter

For the past generation or two a lot of churches in the West have operated under a seeker-sensitive (or seeker-friendly, seeker-driven, seeker-oriented, etc) philosophy of ministry. The idea was to make church appealing and relevant for those seeking God, so they would want to be part it and there find what they have been looking for.

What is a seeker? A seeker is a person who knows what he or she wants and keeps looking until it is found. I have been wondering if people really know what they want. The seeker tag may be a misnomer.

To be clear, I do not have a beef with the church-growth movement and a return to the mission of God from which the seeker movement proceeded. At it’s heart, it is about reaching more people for Jesus. I don’t want to return to a club-mentality of church. Thanks to the church-growth movement, I don’t think we ever will.

However, working from the presupposition that people are seekers and, thus, know what they want, those in the church attempt to give them what they want. Often, though, people don’t end up getting what they need. The very nature of the gospel is that no one was looking for it. That’s why at Jesus’ announcement that the kingdom of God was at hand (Mark 1:15) he followed by saying it required a total reorientation of how life was being lived.

The seeker approach often looks like this: to parents we say, “Oh, you’re seeking how to get through the teenage years? Here’s a fun event where you can drop your kids.” We should be casting a vision for family legacy that will impact generations and nations. To those married we say, “Oh, you’re seeking how to keep your marriage intact? Here are some techniques to keep you under the same roof.” We should be casting a vision for shaping each other’s souls for who the other will be for the next billion years and beyond. Or we may say, “Oh, you’re seeking how not to worry in the midst of turbulent times? Here are five ways to live beyond your barriers.” We should be calling people to abandon themselves to the purposes of God.

The age of the seeker is dead. People don’t even know what they are looking for. Instead the church should be facilitating encounters with what people need. Encounters are surprising. Encounters are unexpected. Encounters are about discovery.

Are you working to help people find what they already know they want? Or encouraging encounters with something they didn’t even know they needed?

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When an Answer May Not Be the Best Answer

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Of the 183 questions that Jesus was asked in the Gospels, He only answered three of them directly. The others, according to Dr. Robert Coleman, author of The Master Plan of Evangelism, Jesus answered by asking another question or telling a story or parable. Jesus understood the power of questions to get people thinking in new ways. Sometimes it’s a victory just to get people to think.

But no one asked more questions than Jesus. By one account, He asked 307! Someone has said if ever there was a person who had all the answers it was Jesus. Yet he rarely gave them at first. Jesus knew the power of a question to force a person to think, look at truth (i.e. reality) in a fresh way, and often themselves for the first time.

And he knew when to keep asking questions. I think of the episode with Peter in John 21. Jesus asked Peter the same question three times. This is ninja questioning. I would not recommend trying this with your boss or wife. Jesus understood the power of that question to help Peter surface what was really happening in his heart.

It is so tempting to give people the answer. Especially when we know the answer! Not knowing the answer usually doesn’t stop us either. We are helpless tellers. Sometimes an answer may not be the best answer. Energy may be better spent, figuring out how to ask the right question.

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The Overwhelmed, Overflow

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Glowing Door Opportunity

My story of access to the gospel, the story of saving faith, goes back to a couple named Don and Adrianne Badgley. I was raised in a Christian home. My parents did so much to “train me in the way” as the Proverb says, but despite their best efforts, I was far from God going into the summer between my junior and senior years of high school.

The Badgleys had a son my age and every Wednesday night for 5 years, along with 10 or so other classmates, they opened up their home, fed us dinner, and talked to us. Sometimes it was a video about the wonder of the world, the transformation that took place in someone’s life, or a lesson from the Bible. One weekend this couple took all of us to a youth concert. At this event, the chance to go to Albania for the summer to do street dramas was presented. For some reason that sounded like something I wanted to do.

The Badgley’s church took a risk on me. This was a small church of, maybe, 30 people. My life up to that point did not show much promise. But they helped raise the $4,000 to pay for me to experience this (and this was over 20 years ago, so that would be more today). The trip transformed my life. Why would people do that? Especially for someone who showed so little promise? I think they were aware of what God did for them and it simply overflowed onto the opportunity presented to them—me! These people had been overwhelmed by the rich blessing and sheer gift of grace. And the overwhelmed, overflowed.

I was part of a wonderful church, Muncie Alliance Church, at a time when this kind of overwhelming overflow was taking place. About 10 years ago, 5 new churches were started by Muncie Alliance Church. I was part of a team that started one of those in Huntington IN. Muncie Alliance gave away 100’s of people and good leaders to make that happen. Why would a church do that? I would submit that is simply an example of the generosity that results from the joy of realizing what one has been given. We don’t hold on. The overwhelmed, overflow.

My current church in Bloomingdale is a great example, too. That community has sent almost a dozen people to work internationally. Just in the past two years we have sent a single guy to Central Asia, a single gal to South Asia, a couple to North Africa, a couple to Guadalajara, Mexico, and another couple to Uruguay. These are amazing people. Was this painful to have so much staff leave? You bet! In more ways than one. All of these people had been in our church for several years, not just floating through over a couple of months. Why would a church do that? I would submit that is simply an example of the generosity that results from the joy of access. We don’t hold on. The overwhelmed, overflow.

God is a God that didn’t hold on—and doesn’t hold on. He doesn’t hoard. And this same trait marks his people. Paul commented about one church saying, “Out of the most severe trial, their overflowing joy and their extreme poverty welled up in rich generosity….For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sakes he became poor, so that you through his poverty might become rich.” (2 Cor 8:2,9) I think this principle speaks to how we handle everything we’ve been given, whether money, family, buildings, or people. Assets are for access, in God’s economy.

You happened to be born in a time, place, and to people who brought you the opportunity to hear the message of Christ. May the joy of realizing the access (the opportunity, riches, and sheer gift) you’ve been given, overwhelm you and cause you to overflow to make the gospel accessible to others.


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The Issue Is Access

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Joy of Gospel Access-Tim-HAMS Instr

What is happening with Jesus’ name in your city? There are multiple categories that are often listed, identifying the reason for (or not) the impact of the church in a city. Some look to the resources (re: money, buildings, assets) available. Some look to relevancy (re: decor, music, presentation, attractional ministry). I would submit the most important category is access.


When resources and/or relevancy is focused upon as the fulcrum of impact, there is a limit. Missiologists (I heard this from Alan Hirsch) indicate only 40% of the population in the US have the potential to enter the doors of our churches. That means statistically 60% of the people in your city cannot be reached through ministry within the four walls of your church. Access must be created by other means. I would submit this means those that name the name of Christ must build relational bridges with those around them.


That is the limit in the US. The issue is different in other countries. The number of people who name the name of Christ is so few in some countries that access is not an option. The image above illustrates different access ratios. If you think of a person knocking on doors, attempting to find someone to tell them about Jesus, it would take about 6 knocks here in the US. Our friends Dan and Katie moved last year to a country where it would take 30,000 knocks for that to happen. But that kind of context is another conversation.


The most important measure is not growth of the individual church, the increase in resources generated by your church compared to last year, or that your programs are judged more culturally clued in. The bottom line is if a gospel witness is available to more people in your city. In the NT, growth was not calculated by the number of people in attendance, but that the word of God was growing in a city and more people were naming the name of Jesus as Lord.


Leaders must continually challenge the mindset in the local church that sees the fulfillment of their guiding mandate as making the gospel accessible to all. That is not to say the expectation is for everyone to become a follower of Christ in a city. Salvation is not up to them. That is the work of the Holy Spirit. However, giving every man, woman, and child the opportunity to accept or reject Christ in a repeatable and accessible manner is the mandate of the local church. The church cannot define success by any other measure.


How does the idea of access change the way you think about the impact of the church in your city?


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