Church, Servanthood

New FREE Resource for Churches: The Servanthood Survey

Over the last few months I’ve been asked more than once, “How can pastors help women find a biblical place of service in the church?”. And each time I’ve been asked, my heart’s desire to create a resource to help pastors get people serving in the church has increased, which resulted in The Servanthood Survey.

The Servanthood Survey takes church members desiring to serve through a brief study of the Scriptures describing what biblical servanthood is, the value of servanthood to God and to the church, following Jesus’ example and teaching on servanthood, the biblical parameters God has placed on certain roles in the church, and prayerful consideration of how God has designed and equipped the individual for service.

The survey can be used with men or women, and even teens or children desiring to serve their local Body. I envision it being sent home with a church member to work through and pray about, followed up by a meeting with the pastor (or whoever assigns positions of service in your church) to discuss the church member’s responses and potential place of service. But churches could also integrate the survey into their new member classes, create a mini (2-4 weeks?) class around the survey, work through it during midweek services, or whatever works best for that particular church.

The survey itself is also meant to be tweaked for use by each individual church. You may not like the way I worded something or you might like to add something (you’ll see at the end, you’ll need to add a sheet with a list of opportunities for service for your particular church). To that end, I’ve made the survey available as a Google Doc as well as providing the text below so you can copy, paste, and edit it in a way that works for your church.

You may notice that my name and website do not appear on the survey. That’s intentional. This is my gift to you to take, make your own, and use as a tool in your church. (I would ask that you please not credit me or include my website on the document if you modify the theology of the survey.)

I hope you’ll find this to be a useful tool for helping the men and women of your church to get plugged in and serve the Body.

The Servanthood Survey

Every Christian who’s able should be serving in the local church. This survey is designed to help you find a place of service in our church. It will help you understand the biblical concept of servanthood and to consider which place of service God may be leading you to as you think about the ways He has uniquely gifted and equipped you.

What is biblical servanthood?

Unfortunately, in Christian culture today, the concept of servanthood has been lost or abandoned in favor of the desire for notoriety. Our flesh wants to be recognized, applauded, and patted on the back for what we do in the church. But what does the Bible teach about serving?

Jesus is our ultimate and perfect example of servanthood:

Read Matthew 20:25-28

  • How does Jesus contrast His followers (26) with Gentiles (the lost) (25)?
  • What does Jesus say is the way to “greatness” in the Kingdom of God? (26-27)
  • What is the example Jesus set for us regarding servanthood, and how does He say we can follow His example? (28)

Read John 13:1-17

In a culture in which people often went barefoot or wore sandals and public sanitation was not what it is today, foot washing was a dirty, sometimes disgusting, task. Because it was a job nobody wanted, and considered beneath the dignity of more highly positioned servants, foot washing was usually assigned to the lowest ranked servant in the household.

  • Who took on the task and the position of lowest ranked servant in this passage? (3-4)
  • Why was Peter upset when Jesus tried to wash his feet? (6,8) How did Peter normally view and think of Jesus (see Matthew 16:15-16) that would have caused him to be appalled that Jesus would lower Himself in such a way?
  • What was the “example” (15) Jesus gave, and how should we carry out His example? (14)
  • Who do the “servant” and “messenger” represent in verse 16? The “master” and “the one who sent him”? What does verse 16 mean?
  • Look closely at verse 17. What is the difference between “knowing” and “doing” these things? What is the consequence “if you do them”?

Prayerfully examine and compare your heart attitude about serving in the church to what Jesus taught and demonstrated in these two passages:

  • Compare your willingness to Jesus’ willingness. His humility to your humility. What He taught about lowliness and serving in anonymity to your thoughts and attitudes about serving in lowliness and anonymity.
  • Is your heart’s desire to fill a “spotlight” position in the church because you crave recognition and praise from others?
  • Do you desire to be “first” and “great” in the eyes of others, or in the eyes of God?
  • Jesus’ regular ministry was teaching, not foot washing. Are you willing to pitch in and do whatever needs to be done at the moment even if it’s a thankless task, a dirty job, or “not your ministry”?

Knowing Our Roles

When Jesus came to earth, God had a special, well-defined role of service for Him. He was to live a sinless life, teach, perform miracles, die on the cross for our sins, and rise again. He was not to be a husband, father, chief priest, scribe, farmer, or soldier. One of the ways Jesus obeyed God was by staying within the parameters God had set for Him and joyfully and robustly fulfilling His role without coveting the roles of others or complaining about the role God had assigned Him.

God has also assigned certain roles of service in the church to certain people. We must be sure to follow Jesus’ example by joyfully embracing, and robustly fulfilling, the role He has given us and not coveting the roles of others. 

Read 1 Corinthians 12:12-31

  • What does this passage teach us about the value of each church member’s service to the Body?
  • Is it right for any church member to look down on anyone else’s role of service? (21) Is it right for us to look down on our own “lowly” role of service and be jealous of someone else’s more “prestigious” role of service? (15-17)
  • Who arranges members – and, consequently, their roles of service – in the Body? (18) Did He do so arbitrarily or with purpose? (18)  What does that tell us about the importance of obeying God by staying in the role He has assigned us?
  • What is the effect when we embrace the role God has assigned to us and encourage others in the role God has assigned to them? (25)

Most roles of service in the church are open to many Christians. But in the same way there are good reasons we wouldn’t allow a five year old to drive the church van or a man to chaperone the girls in their sleeping quarters at youth camp, God has good reasons that He restricts certain people from serving in a few specific roles, and that He requires certain people to step up and fill certain roles.

Read 1 Timothy 3:1-13, Titus 1:5-9, 1 Timothy 2:12-15, and Titus 2:3-5

God requires that certain biblically qualified men to step up and take on the leadership of the church as pastors, elders, and deacons. 

  • What are the qualifications for each of these offices in the 1 Timothy 3/Titus 1 passages?
  • Is every Christian man qualified to serve in these roles? What are some things from these passages that would disqualify a man from serving in one or more of these roles?
  • Must every man who is biblically qualified serve in one of these offices? (1 Timothy 3:1) What would be some reasons a biblically qualified man might not or should not serve in one of these offices? Should a man who is biblically qualified give serious prayerful consideration to serving in one of these offices?
  • Is a godly man’s service to the church any less valuable if he does not serve in one of these roles? (You may wish to review 1 Corinthians 12:12-31)

God requires that women who are mature in the faith train up younger women and children in godliness. However, as we have seen in the 1 Timothy 3/Titus 1 passages, He has restricted the offices of pastor, elder, and deacon to biblically qualified men. First Timothy 2:12-14 shows us that women are also restricted from carrying out two of the functions of these offices: preaching and teaching the Bible to co-ed/men’s groups in the church setting, and exercising teaching or non-teaching authority over co-ed/men’s groups in the church setting. This means that our church will place qualified men in any position of service which requires preaching or teaching the Bible to men, and/or holding authority over men.

  • Recalling 1 Corinthians 12:12-31, does God’s restricting these few church offices/functions to biblically qualified men mean that He values the service of women or men who don’t serve in these roles any less than He values the service of men who do serve in these roles? Should we value their service less?
  • What are some ways you see men and women serving in our church which do not require them to preach/teach the Bible to men or exercise authority over men? Explain the importance of a few of these roles of service and their value to the church.

Read Matthew 5:29-30

Everyone sins, and everyone deals with different temptations to sin. If there are certain roles of service in our church that would tempt you to sin, it is not wise for you to serve in that position of service. For example, if you struggle against the temptation to steal, we want to lovingly help you avoid that temptation by not making you our church treasurer.

  • What does Jesus say we should do with things that tempt us to sin?
  • Prayerfully consider your areas of weakness and temptation. Are there any areas in our church in which you feel it would be unwise for you to serve?
  • Have you ever been convicted of a crime? Are there any areas in our church in which it would be illegal or violate your probation for you to serve?

If you’re struggling to embrace the role in the church that God has assigned to you, prayerfully examine your heart to discover why that might be. Compare the way Jesus embraced the role God assigned Him with your heart attitude about embracing the role God has assigned you.

Suited to Serve

God has created each human being with unique talents, abilities, and interests, and gives Christians spiritual giftings for service (see Romans 12:3-8). This is one of the ways He equips us for ministry in the church. While we should always be ready to pitch in and help whenever a need arises, most of the time, God does not assign people long term roles of service that go against the grain of the way He wired them. However, there are times when we serve in a capacity we think we’ll hate, and we end up loving it, discovering giftings and abilities we never knew we had!

Take some time to prayerfully consider your character traits, interests, abilities, experience, talents, and gifts that may help match you up with a place of service in our church:

  • Have you ever worked on a task or project that gave you the sense that, “This is what God put me on this earth to do,” or brought you great joy? Describe that task or project. Would others objectively look at the results and say you did a good job? Is there a way you could serve our church by doing that same thing or something similar?
  • What kinds of things do unbiased people (not close friends/family) tell you you’re good at and encourage you to pursue? 
  • Make a list of ten categories of work you enjoy and are good at (ex: organizing, working with children, repair work, writing, hospitality, etc.). Is there a way you could serve our church in one of these capacities?
  • Are you willing to give a role of service a try even if you’re inexperienced in that area or it’s not your favorite area?
  • When looking out across the landscape of our church, do you think, “Somebody needs to do something about _______,”? Pray about the possibility that God has put this need on your heart because He is moving you to do something about it, help someone else do something about it, or facilitate (provide finances, materials, a meeting place, etc.) someone else doing something about it.

 

Prayerfully look over the attached list of roles of service needing someone to fill them. Is there a certain role God seems to be leading you to or that you believe would be a good fit for the way God has created and equipped you? Is there a need you see in our church that’s not on the list that God has placed on your heart to fill? Make an appointment with the pastor, elder, or other appropriate leader and discuss the role of service you would like to take on.

(Churches using the survey: You will need to attach your own list of specific opportunities for service available in your particular church HERE.)


Additional Resources

Servanthood
Let Me Count the Ways: 75 Ways Women Can Biblically Minister to Others

Rock Your Role: Jill in the Pulpit
Rock Your Role FAQs

Christian women, Church, Southern Baptist/SBC

Is the SBC’s Tent Big Enough for ALL Marginalized Christian Women?

I’m taking a short summer break this week. I hope you’ll enjoy this article from the archives. The annual meeting of the Southern Baptist Convention  also took place this week. Will you please pray that God will bring conviction of sin, repentance, and obedience to God’s Word in the SBC?


Originally published June 22, 2018

It started with Paige Patterson’s gobsmackingly horrible and unbiblical advice to an abused to wife to return to her husband. Then it was the lurid remarks he made about a teenage girl, with which he regaled a congregation during a sermon. Next came the allegations of his mishandling of two separate sexual assault cases at two different seminaries.

In response to all this turmoil, Beth Moore added to the conversation some vague stories of various unnamed men in Christian circles who had, in her perception, condescended to her or otherwise not treated her as an equal, leaving the impression that there is widespread, systemic misogyny within modern evangelicalism. Jen Wilkin, from a more biblical – yet, troublingly, similarly vague – perspective, joined the chorus, and has been afforded a wider audience for the “they can’t be pastors, natch, but we need more women in church leadership” platform she has been advancing for the past several years. (Which leadership positions or roles? We’re still waiting for Jen to specify.)

And the icing on the cake was SBC pastor, Dwight McKissic, publicly declaring that the way to “heal” all of these woes against Christian women and “right historic patterns of wrong against women” is to elect Beth Moore as president of the Southern Baptist Convention.

So this nebulous idea has been introduced that Christian women are getting the short end of the stick across the board in evangelicalism (specifically in the SBC) and that the way to fix things – all the way from genuine abuse and rape on one end of the spectrum to women whose feelings have been hurt because they’re not seen as equal to pastors on the other end – is to make sure, somehow, that women’s voices are heard and validated.

That’s a pretty “big tent” idea. And if it’s going to be a big tent, there’s room under there for everybody, right? To be consistent, compassionate, and fair, wouldn’t these folks have to make space for the voices of, and give influential positions to, any Christian woman who feels she’s been diminished? Let’s find out.

Allow me to introduce you to a group of Christian women who have been silenced and brushed aside for years, often by the very same people who are now hypocritically crying out that women need to be heard in order to keep them from being marginalized.

I give you discerning, doctrinally sound, often Reformed, Christian women.

We are women who have been subjected to insults, and accusations of heresy and hatred of the lost, because we hold to the doctrines of grace. We are women who have been attacked by pastors, pastors’ wives, women’s ministry leaders, and fellow church members for pointing out the false doctrine of popular women’s “Bible” study materials and merely asking to properly be taught the Word of God in our own churches. We are women who have been shouted down or ruled “out of order” at denominational meetings for asking that our Christian retailers stop selling materials containing false teaching. We are women who have been forced out of our own churches for taking a biblical stand against women preaching to, teaching, or exercising authority over men in the church. We are women who have been called haters, legalistic, divisive, threats to unity, jealous, and all other manner of slander simply for holding to Scripture and refusing to budge from it.

All this mistreatment of women at the hands of Christian celebrities, denominational leaders, pastors and other church leadership, and fellow church members.

Do we qualify as marginalized? We’ve been hurt, and in many cases, sinned against outright. No church discipline. No redress or recourse. Nobody wants to make sure we have a voice or a place of power – quite the opposite, in fact. A lot of us saw our own pastors hand-wringingly share Beth Moore’s detailing of her grievances against Christian men even as they pushed us and our biblical concerns aside.

Everybody feels sorry for Beth Moore. Who will cry for us?

We don’t want much, just a return to what’s biblical.

We want sound doctrine in the church and solid preaching in the pulpit.

We want this nonsense about a female SBC President – especially a false teacher like Beth Moore – to stop. Not only is it not biblical, it’s a patronizing toss of a trinket or pat on the head attempting to dry the tears of fussy little girls, and it won’t work to solve any of the real problems that are going on.

We want false doctrine off the shelves of LifeWay, and for LifeWay, the ERLC, and others in leadership to stop organizing and promoting conferences and other events headlined by people they have already been informed (yea, as seminary trained pastors and leaders, should know without having to be told) are false teachers. Among the many things Jen Wilkin has rightly said is that we need to promote biblical and theological literacy among Christian women. When you go on a diet, the first thing you do is go through your kitchen and throw out all the junk food. You’ll never start eating healthy if you have an endless supply of candy bars in the pantry. The only way to begin to properly train women in Scripture and theology  is by “putting off” false doctrine in order to “put on” sound doctrine.

We want LifeWay to demonstrate that it actually cares about the spiritual health of women by putting its money where its mouth is. Ridding the shelves of false doctrine and the event docket of false teachers is going to cost LifeWay a lot of revenue. Women who want their itching ears scratched will quickly find another source of false teaching to pour their cash into. There’s not a lot of money to be made in encouraging women to study straight from their Bibles, sit faithfully under the teaching of a doctrinally sound pastor, and humbly serve the local church. Are Christian women worth it to you, LifeWay?

We want a strong doctrine of sin and church discipline to be understood and taught by our pastors and denominational leaders. The fact of the matter is that a woman who has been genuinely sinned against by a man who has abused her is in a different category from a woman whose feelings are hurt because she’s been told she can’t teach a co-ed adult Sunday School class. The first woman needs compassionate brothers and sisters in Christ to come alongside her and walk with her as God begins to heal her body and her heart. The abuser needs to be prosecuted to the full and appropriate extent of the law as well as to be placed under church discipline. The second woman is either in sin and rebellion (in which case she may need to be placed under church discipline) or she just hasn’t been taught God’s Word properly and someone needs to disciple her in that area. To put these two women underneath the same “big tent” just because they’ve both experienced some sort of hurt diminishes and confuses their situations and the solutions that would be biblically appropriate for each.

We want pastors and leaders to herald, praise, and validate the biblical role of women in the church. Women should not be taught only the things we cannot do in the church, we must also be taught what we must do in the church – what only women are uniquely and ontologically gifted by God to do. Women need to hear – particularly from the mouths of pastors and denominational leaders – the vital necessity of women discipling other women, women training the church’s children in the Scriptures, women serving in hospitality and mercy ministries, women properly using their administrative gifts, and so much more. Train us to teach. Equip us to serve. Encourage us to use our gifts in obedience to Scripture and for the glory of God.

We want men – from the heads of our denominations to the newly saved sinner in the pew – to step up and be godly men. We desperately need you to biblically and fearlessly lead the church. Don’t be afraid to stand up and put your foot down squarely on Scripture. Even if it makes you unpopular. Even if it rocks the boat at church. Even if people leave and never come back. As godly women, we can’t do our job if you’re not doing yours.

So how about it, brothers and sisters who are crying out for Christian women to be heard? Do doctrinally sound women get a seat at the table? Do we get to be heard? Will anything be done to correct the mistreatment we’ve received?

Or are there only certain women you want to hear from? Women who fit the popular social narrative. Women the world and most of the church will applaud you for listening to. Solutions that do more to glorify people than to glorify God.

Just how big is that tent…really?

Church

It’s Time for a Reformation in the SBC – 3 Issues We Need to Set Right

I’m taking a short summer break this week. I hope you’ll enjoy this article from the archives. The annual meeting of the Southern Baptist Convention is also taking place this week. Will you please pray that God will bring conviction of sin, repentance, and obedience to God’s Word?


Originally published May 25, 2018

I don’t know the brother who said it, but I saw a remark the other day from a Presbyterian gentleman who said something to the effect of, “It’s time for all doctrinally sound Southern Baptists to leave the SBC.”

I get that.

When you have an organization as large, open, and widespread as the Southern Baptist Convention, problems – even major ones – are inevitable. At this point, there are many things the SBC is still getting right, biblically speaking…

There are many good and praiseworthy things going on in SBC life. We have hundreds of doctrinally sound pastors faithfully preaching the gospel week in and week out. Discernment and biblical literacy among Southern Baptist church members is slowly but steadily growing. The SBC takes a public, biblical stand on abortion and homosexuality while many other denominations do not. Our organizational structure for funding and sending out missionaries, while sometimes flawed in its execution, is without peer. Southern Baptist Disaster Relief is one of the finest relief organizations in the world. And there’s so much more. Find a godly Kingdom effort going on somewhere, and you’ll probably find a Southern Baptist involved in it. By the grace of God, while we’re far from perfect, we’re getting a lot of things right

…But for some individual Southern Baptists and Southern Baptist churches, the biblical error and other problems pervading the SBC have become too much to bear, and they have deemed it time to walk away from what they see as a system damaged beyond repair, seeking refuge in ARBCA, Bible, Independent, or non-denominational churches and networks instead.

Like I said, I get that, and I don’t blame them one little bit. Believe me, I’ve had leaving on my mind more than once. And if the SBC continues its downward spiral, it’s an inevitability for nearly all of us who hold to sound doctrine.

But there are still plenty of us crazy, “glass half full” doctrinally sound optimists out there who, like Luther, don’t want to abandon the SBC to the rubbish heap if it can be avoided, but would rather see it reformed (little “r”), renewed, and restored to the glory of God.

If you’ve ever labored through the entirety of the Old Testament (and if you haven’t, stop denying yourself that blessing, and study it), you know that God exercised patience with Israel through centuries of idolatry, rebellion, and paganism of the vilest sorts, sending them prophet after prophet, warning after warning, discipline after discipline, lovingly calling, urging, and commanding them to repent and be reconciled to Him before finally executing judgment on them.

I’m just not sure we’re quite at the point of exiling the SBC… yet. I think maybe these are the days of Elijah. And Jeremiah. And Isaiah. And even Luther. A time for godly Southern Baptist men and women to stand firmly on the written Word of God and speak prophetically, chapter and verse, into their beloved churches and denomination, “Thus saith the Lord.”

And in that same spirit of the prophets of old, we don’t speak from a position of “I’m right and I’m here to prove it,” or because we’re haters, or because we’re power-hungry. It’s because we’re cut to the heart over the sin and idolatry we see among our brothers and sisters. We’re grieved that those things dishonor our precious Savior and bring His judgment and discipline upon those who participate in and propagate them. We deeply desire that our denomination and our churches experience the joy that comes with being spiritually healthy and biblically submitted to Christ.

So, while there are probably at least ninety-five theses that could be nailed to the doors of the Executive Committee in Nashville, here are three that would be a good start.

1.
The Authority and Sufficiency of Scripture

Nearly forty years ago, Southern Baptist movers and shakers in the conservative resurgence went to war for the inerrancy of Scripture. It was a long, hard battle, but they won. Now it’s time to fight for the authority and sufficiency of Scripture in the SBC.

The Bible is our authority as Christians, not the ideas, opinions, and traditions of denominational leaders, SBC celebrities, pastors, or any other person. The Bible. If the Bible commands us to do something, we do it. If the Bible commands us not to do something, we don’t do it. We don’t formulate our own programs and methods and try to squish the Bible in to make it fit. We start with the Bible. We stay with the Bible. We end with the Bible.

Because the SBC does not always submit to the authority of the Bible, we have leaders, celebrities, and pastors looking to, and promoting, sources outside the Bible for direction instead of simply trusting and obeying God’s written Word. We have influential “Bible” teachers who stand on stages in front of thousands and dare to proclaim, “God told me…”, functionally denying the sufficiency of Scripture by relying on supposed extra-biblical revelation (and teaching their followers to do the same). We have pastors and denominational leaders who look to polls and surveys to decide how to conduct their worship services or which social issues need to be addressed and how to address them. We have church growth gurus teaching our pastors to adopt all manner of worldliness that “works” to get sinners in the doors of their churches.

If the Southern Baptist Convention is to survive as an entity of biblical Christianity, the authority and sufficiency of Scripture is the number one issue that must be dealt with.  If this issue is properly addressed and corrected, it will alleviate or minimize nearly all other problems facing the SBC. We must submit to God’s written Word and give Scripture its proper place – first place – in our denomination, our individual churches, and our personal lives.

Basic Training: The Bible Is Our Authority

Basic Training: The Bible Is Sufficient

2.
False Doctrine and False Teachers

If the SBC truly regarded the Bible as authoritative and sufficient, the cancer of false doctrine and false teachers that is slowly killing us would be cured or in remission. Indeed, the aforementioned false teaching of extra-biblical (God told me, showed me in a dream, spoke to me, etc.) revelation is probably the most pervasive false doctrine accepted among Southern Baptists.

When Hilkiah found the Book of the Law in the temple (Imagine a house of God in such a shambles of idolatry that people had to dig and search for the actual Scriptures. Selah.), and Shaphan read it to Josiah, Josiah tore his clothes in grief and began to set God’s house and God’s people in order. After covenanting together with the people to obey God’s Word, the very first thing Josiah did was to have the altars and vessels of false gods carried out of God’s house and destroyed. If the SBC would follow in Josiah’s footsteps we would see things like:

LifeWay would immediately remove and destroy any and all materials by Beth Moore, Andy Stanley, Priscilla Shirer, TD Jakes, Lysa TerKeurst, Sarah Young, Christine Caine, Bethel Music, Jesus Culture, Hillsong, and all other false teachers and promulgators of false doctrine.

There would be no more conferences, simulcasts, or leadership training seminars featuring false teachers, and false teachers would certainly not be invited to speak in any capacity at the annual Southern Baptist Convention.

Pastors, authors, and speakers who attempted to build a career inside the SBC by teaching false doctrine would be subject to church discipline for their sin, not turned into celebrities or appointed or elected to denominational leadership positions.

Messenger voting privileges at the Convention would be revoked for churches which habitually and unrepentantly welcome false teachers.

If the Bible were to become our sufficient authority for both orthodoxy and orthopraxy, our eyes would quickly be opened to the enormity of the hold false doctrine has on our denomination, churches, and individuals, and we would act accordingly and biblically.

A Naked Emperor in the Southern Baptist Convention

10 Things I Wish Southern Baptists Knew About Southern Baptists

The Peterson Predicament and LifeWay’s Peculiar Policies

3.
Disfellowshipping Errant Churches

Earlier this week, the Southern Baptist Convention severed ties with the District of Columbia Baptist Convention (DCBC- an association of Southern Baptist churches in the Washington, D.C. area) for refusing to disfellowship one of its member churches, Calvary Baptist, which had called a legally “married” lesbian couple to serve as its co-“pastors” over a year ago.

It was absolutely the right thing to do (the SBC has disfellowshipped several churches that embrace homosexuality), and I’m glad that this standard remains in tact, but…lesbian co-pastors…? That’s how bad it has to get before the SBC can, or will, act to remove a church? What about churches that are embracing sins other than homosexuality?

There are plenty of apostate Southern Baptist churches, and we have no mechanism in place for kicking them out of the SBC.

This is a verbatim quote from the FAQ section (5th question from the top) of the SBC’s web site:

“According to our constitution, if a church no longer makes a bona fide contribution to the Convention’s work, or if it acts to ‘affirm, approve, or endorse homosexual behavior,’ it no longer complies with the Constitution of the Southern Baptist Convention and is not permitted to send messengers to the annual meeting. These, however, are the only explicitly stated instances in which the SBC has the prerogative to take action.”

What does that mean? As long as your church doesn’t affirm homosexuality and gives to the Cooperative Program, you’re in. Never mind if your pastor twists God’s word until it’s unrecognizable. Or lets women and false teachers get behind the pulpit like Steven Furtick does. Or plays AC/DC’s “Highway to Hell” on Easter Sunday and says he probably wouldn’t have strippers on stage like Perry Noble does. Or any of the other ridiculous and blasphemous shenanigans so many of the seeker sensitive types in our denomination pull. Nope, as long as you give your money and stand on the right side of homosexuality, you’re good to go.² ³

I’ll be the first to admit, it would be a difficult standard to set and implement, but look at the standards the New Testament required of churches. We’ve got to set the bar higher than a homosexuality litmus test and an offering for a church to be in good standing with the SBC. Doctrine and practices simply have to be a factor.

 

Can there be another conservative resurgence that brings reform to the SBC? I believe there can.

The Bible says “nothing will be impossible with God.” I believe that. I believe that the God who spoke the universe into existence from nothing, who opened sealed tombs and barren wombs, who parted seas and walked on water and turned water into wine can change the hearts of Southern Baptists and the trajectory of the Southern Baptist Convention.

By His grace. For His glory. For our good.


¹A Naked Emperor in the Southern Baptist Convention
²10 Things I Wish Southern Baptists Knew About Southern Baptists
³This verbiage has been removed from the FAQ section of the SBC website. See “Susan’s” comments and my replies in the comments section for more info.

Church, Sin, Southern Baptist/SBC

Preventative Measures: 6 Steps SBC Churches Can Take to Prevent Sexual Abuse

I’m taking a short summer break this week. I hope you’ll enjoy this article from the archives. The annual meeting of the Southern Baptist Convention is also taking place this week. Will you please pray that God will bring conviction of sin, repentance, and obedience to God’s Word?


Originally published February 22, 2019

The state I live in is heavily Catholic and Southern Baptist. For many years, journalists and others have been delving into the gobsmacking number – thousands – of pedophile and sexually abusive Catholic clergy across the globe, and, in recent months, my own local paper has been tackling the issue as it pertains to priests and other Catholic leaders in our area who have been revealed as abusers. So I was kind of prepared for the Southern Baptist Convention to be the next entity to be investigated. My guess is that either Presbyterians or Mormons will be next.

It’s absolutely appropriate that the news media conducted this kind of investigation into the SBC. What’s not appropriate is that SBC leadership appeared not to be ready for it because – at least from my perspective as the average person in the pew – it’s not something the Convention has a history of policing itself on in any appreciable way. SBC leadership should have been ready and eager to fling the doors wide open and transparently welcome any sort of investigation by the media, demonstrating whatever progress has been made in dealing with perverts in our pulpits. Instead, they seemed to be caught virtually unprepared despite the fact that the signs of the times should have indicated to them that this was coming.

In my opinion, the Houston Chronicle did an excellent job of exposing the problems with abuse in the SBC in its three-part series of articles, even taking the time to explain the crucial point of church autonomy, which sets SBC churches apart from the governing structure of Catholicism and other organizations, and which has, in many cases enabled abusers to move from church to church undetected. SBC leaders who have explained that they have no authority to force churches to participate in any sort of registry of abusers and the credibly accused are correct (but couldn’t it be voluntary?). SBC leadership, unfortunately, has no such authority over individual churches. Each church has to set its own standards and methods for preventing abuse. So what can individual, autonomous churches do to prevent abuse?

1.
Preach the Gospel

That might sound pretty basic, but it’s one of the basics we desperately need to get back to. We need to be churches who hammer on the gospel – the wretchedness of sin, the supreme holiness of God, the cross, the tomb, the resurrection, grace, mercy, repentance, forgiveness – week in and week out. Not only is that…well…it’s just what any biblical church is supposed to do, but my guess is that the vast majority of the perpetrators in these abuse cases are not actually Christians – despite what they may claim or what office they might hold – they are false converts because a lot of churches they’ve been part of have neglected their duty to preach the gospel.

Too many SBC churches teach an easy – “Just repeat this quick little prayer, and boom, you’re in!” – believism that unrepentant sinners hang their eternal hats on as a “Get out of Hell, Free!” card. They’ve never found themselves filthy and undone before an unfathomably holy God because they’ve never been confronted by that God or that characterization of their sin in the preaching and teaching of their churches. Could some of these perpetrators be genuinely regenerated Christians? It’s possible, but not likely. By and large, true Christians are not out there abusing others – it’s the false converts.

2.
Meaningful Membership

Some churches have done away with formal membership altogether. Everybody’s welcome, come and go whenever you want, if you want, no requirements, no accountability. That’s not biblical, nor is it how the church has handled membership over the course of church history.

Traditionally there have been three main ways to join a SBC church: a newly saved person makes a public profession of his faith to the church body and is baptized into membership, or membership can be transferred from one church to another. You can transfer your membership by promise of letter (your previous church sends a letter to your current church recommending or not recommending that you be accepted for membership) or by statement (when obtaining a letter from a previous church isn’t possible, this is an “honor system” personal testimony that you are a baptized Believer).

Promise of letter in particular is a decent and biblical system that needs to be upheld, adhered to, and taken gravely seriously rather than just waving every Tom, Dick, and Harry through the wide open doors of the church. And in the case of new church members and new staff members (new staff members have to transfer their membership, too), it could help curb abuse if both the sending and receiving churches would look upon it as far more than a mere formality.

One of the very valid problems the Chronicle articles cite is that sending churches (the churches the abusers came from) did not inform subsequent churches of the problems with the abuser. They silently foisted people they knew were dangerous onto unsuspecting congregations. If sending churches would respond honestly to inquiries from receiving churches (the churches the abusers are going to) about their former staff and members, and if receiving churches would ask probing, personal questions rather than sending out perfunctory form letters, that would be a good start to making more headway on preventing abuse.

Furthermore, meaningful membership makes it harder for people to anonymously breeze in to the church, abuse, and slip out before anybody realizes what’s going on. There are sexual abusers out there who find and attend churches with loosey-goosey membership policies for the express purpose of cultivating a pool of victims. They know these churches are blindly and ignorantly trusting, so they show up for a couple of weeks, talk a good game, and promptly volunteer to work in the nursery or with the youth. If your church has a firm membership policy, required membership class, requires members to sign a church covenant, only allows church members (not just anybody who wants to or seems talented) to serve in any office, task, role, or capacity – and only after they have been members for a specified amount of time (ex: must have been a faithful member for at least six months to teach, serve on a committee, etc.), that sort of abuser isn’t going to waste his time or chance being caught by attending your church.

3.
Church Discipline

One of the failings of far too many SBC (and other) churches is sweeping sin under the rug and refusing to biblically exercise church discipline before it’s too late and calamity strikes. Church discipline isn’t just for the “big” sins like a pastor who commits adultery. Church discipline is for all observable, unrepentant, biblically defined sin. If we have verifiable knowledge that a brother or sister in our church is sinning, we have the obligation not to please ourselves by turning a blind eye and avoiding a confrontation, but to lovingly go to that person and plead with her, for her own restoration and reconciliation to Christ, to repent and walk blamelessly. Often (hopefully), that first step in the church discipline process precludes the need for the remaining two.

Churches that consistently, lovingly, and biblically practice church discipline help prevent abuse in four ways:

First of all, nobody wakes up one morning and decides to start sexually abusing others. There are always “smaller” sins leading up to abuse – obscene comments, dirty jokes, leering, pornography, inappropriate touching in public. If we would address those “smaller” sins when we see them happening, we might just prevent the potential abuser from continually hardening his heart by getting away with sin, bring the gospel to bear on his life, and keep him from becoming an abuser in the first place. He might actually get saved, which is one of the goals of church discipline.

Second, if a church cultivates an atmosphere of practicing church discipline, unrepentant abusers aren’t going to hang around long. They don’t want to be caught.

Third, if a church ends up having to go through all the steps of church discipline with an unrepentant potential abuser, the last step – bringing this person before the church to remove him from membership – is public. Church members are made aware of the problems with this person so they can avoid being victimized by him and the procedure of removing the potential abuser from church membership goes into the church records. When he then goes to a new church, that receiving church should inquire of the sending church about him (see “Meaningful Membership” above). The sending church can then provide the record of his removal so the receiving church will be aware of the problems with this person.

Fourth, if we practice church discipline on the “smaller” sins with an unrepentant abuser, he is likely to be removed from membership in the church before he gets to the point of abusing someone.

Another aspect of church discipline is tightening up the rolls and removing members who are dead (no, I’m not kidding), have moved away, have stopped attending, or are no longer members in good standing for other reasons. This may not prevent someone from abusing, but at least if he does abuse, the media won’t be able to report that he’s (still) a member of your church, thus tarnishing your church’s, and possibly God’s, good name.

4.
Take Biblical Requirements for Leadership Seriously

It’s not like the Bible doesn’t tell us what kind of man should be a pastor, elder, or deacon. It’s right there, in black and white, twice, in 1 Timothy 3 and Titus 1. And yet there are churches who barely give those requirements a glance in favor of “more important” qualities they want in a pastor: Does he have at least a master’s degree from seminary? Is he a certain age? Does he rub elbows with Christian celebrities? Does he have a track record of successful building programs, fundraising, and attracting lots of new members? Is he charismatic and a dynamic speaker? None of those things are inherently bad unless they take precedence over the biblical qualifications.

But when churches are hiring men as pastors, youth directors, etc., whom they know have been in prison for abuse, as the Chronicle articles cited, we have to think some other factor is more important to those churches than the biblical requirements. Because someone who has been accused, tried, convicted, and imprisoned by worldly courts for sexual abuse is no longer “above reproach” – the very first requirement in both passages (and Titus mentions it twice for emphasis) – he is not “respectable”, and he is not “well thought of by outsiders”. The very existence of the Chronicle’s articles proves that. It boggles the mind that something like this has to be said to professing Christians who are supposedly spiritually mature and biblically knowledgeable enough to be on the pastor search committees for their churches, but people who have criminal records as sex abusers are permanently disqualified from professional ministry because they no longer meet these biblical requirements. (And just as an aside, if your church has a “no hire” policy for men who have ever been divorced for any reason but yet you’ll hire a convicted sexual abuser…well…I’m just at a loss for words at that level of hypocrisy. OK, maybe one word: repent.)

But, “forgiveness for repentant sinners!” I can hear compassionate Christians cry out. Absolutely. Absolutely. I have a loved one who was radically and genuinely saved while he was in prison for child molestation. God can and does save sexual abusers, and those forgiven Christians need a church home just like everybody else does. We lovingly welcome into membership repentant sinners who are transparent with the church about their previous sin and who volunteer to be kept accountable. But we do not put them back into the position of pastor, elder, deacon, etc., first because they are biblically disqualified, and second, because it is not loving to that person nor to the rest of the church to allow him access to facets of church life that would tempt him back into sin. And it is putting God to the test to intentionally put such a person into a tempting situation as some sort of way of “proving” that God has really saved this person. We would not make a convicted embezzler the church treasurer and we should not be putting sexual abusers in positions that would tempt or allow them to abuse again – even volunteer positions. That doesn’t mean we doubt their salvation or the work God has done in their hearts, that means we recognize that Satan is cruel and crafty and we humbly admit that we still succumb to temptations to sin. It’s not holding a grudge or unforgiveness, it’s exercising biblical wisdom.

5.
Stop Being Afraid

When we allow the fear of man to determine our actions instead of the fear of God, we are in grave spiritual error. Peter and the apostles stood up to the authorities who threatened and imprisoned them, insisted on obeying God’s Word, boldly declared, “We must obey God rather than men,” took their licks like men, went away rejoicing that they had been counted worthy to suffer dishonor for the Name, and kept right on trucking in obedience to God. How far have we fallen when we won’t even address a brother’s sin with him because we’re afraid of confrontation? When we cover up a predator’s behavior and unleash him on others because we’re afraid of a defamation lawsuit? When we must obey men rather than God because we’re more afraid of the earthly consequences than spiritual consequences – because we don’t trust God to take care of us or His church?

Brothers and sisters, this must not be.

Should we act wisely? Of course. Make sure we’re obeying the law and not hurting anyone as far as we’re able? Certainly. Get some legal advice? Absolutely. But when the rubber meets the road of choosing what’s right in God’s eyes versus what’s safe or comfortable in our own eyes, we choose what’s right in God’s eyes every time and we trust Him with the outcome. The God who parts seas, cools furnaces, and raises the dead is powerful enough to handle court cases and the ire of sinful men. Let us say with the Psalms and the Proverbs:

The fear of man lays a snare, but whoever trusts in the Lord is safe.
Proverbs 29:25

…in God I trust; I shall not be afraid. What can man do to me?
Psalm 56:11

The Lord is on my side; I will not fear. What can man do to me?
Psalm 118:6

Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make straight your paths. Be not wise in your own eyes; fear the Lord, and turn away from evil.
Proverbs 3:5-7

6.
Practical Wisdom

Do the practical stuff. God has given us brains, experience, resources, and promises us wisdom. We would be failing to honor Him if we did not make use of all of those blessings in order to protect our churches from predators.

Perform criminal background checks on all staff members and on anyone who works with children, the disabled, or vulnerable adults regardless of how well you know them or how trustworthy you think they are.

Check references on every employee from the pastor to the janitor. Do it thoroughly and diligently, not flippantly.

Put accountability measures in place such as requiring at least two adults be present in children’s and youth activities and classes at all times. No teen or adult – including the pastor, youth pastor or any other staff member – should ever be alone with a child on church property or at church functions.

Hold training sessions for the whole church on your church’s security measures, and how to report suspicious behavior and suspected abuse. Specifically address parents on the issue of trusting other adults in the church. Time after time, we hear that children are victimized because parents have left their child alone with a pastor or other Christian adult assuming that person was trustworthy. Teach them instead to assume that any adult – regardless of his title or position – who seeks to be alone with a child is untrustworthy.

Explore the services of organizations like Ministry Safe and others who can help you make your church a safer place. Pick the brains of sister churches who have put precautions in place for helpful suggestions and resources.

 

In the aftermath of bombshell news of abuse, the most common line of reasoning is, “How can we fix this? What can we do?”. Thoughts turn to practical solutions. That’s not wrong. In fact, it’s very, very right. We should make every effort to put pragmatic safeguards in place. But we can’t focus on the practical and tangible and leave out the spiritual. Because abuse is a spiritual issue way before it’s a safety issue. And if we get the spiritual part of it right from the get go, we drastically reduce the chances that we’ll have to fall back on practical safety measures. An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure, and a church striving to uphold the highest Scriptural standards of holiness will find itself fortified with tons of both.

Church, Obedience

Neo-Pharisaism

 

Has anyone ever called you a Pharisee? I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve been called that name by professing Christians from all walks of life. And let’s not try to sugar coat it, when somebody uses that term, it’s not meant as a compliment. It can be anything from rage-fueled “Christian profanity” to a well-intentioned but biblically misinformed attempt to quash perfectly scriptural words or actions  – but it’s a pejorative term, whatever the motive behind this name-calling might be.

The Bible first introduces us to the Pharisees in the gospels, during the ministry of John the Baptist, and right away, it’s clear that anybody who’s truly on God’s side of the aisle is going to have a problem with these dudes. “You brood of vipers!” is the first sentence spoken to or about the Pharisees.

But why? Why was this group of respected Jewish leaders and Bible scholars consistently painted in such a negative light by John, Jesus, and the Apostles?

Because the Pharisees were the false teachers of Jesus’ day. They were teaching the false doctrine of legalism – the idea that Jews could earn right standing with God by obeying His laws. And because they didn’t want to even come close to disobeying God’s law, they came up with their own man-made laws that were way more restrictive than God’s laws. The Pharisees required the people to obey those man-made laws and said people who broke them were sinning.

It was kind of like having a pool in your back yard with a fence around it. The pool was sin. The fence around it was God’s law. The Pharisees came along and put an additional fence around the perimeter of the property, keeping people out of the back yard altogether. Only God didn’t say we couldn’t use and enjoy the yard, He just said, “Stay out of the pool.”¹

And then Jesus arrived on the scene and put His foot down – God’s law reigns supreme, not man’s law. For those who follow God from the heart, His commands are not burdensomenot a yoke of slavery. And by burdening the people with laws God had not commanded, and setting those laws on equal footing with God’s laws, the Pharisees were the ones in sin.

But this just didn’t compute to the prideful, hypocritical, self-righteous Pharisees. They were so set in their ways and ensconced in their power and position that they doubled down on their false doctrine to the point that their self-deception led them to view simply obeying God’s law as written – nothing added, nothing taken away – as sin.

This is why we see the Pharisees losing their cotton-pickin’ minds over Jesus and the disciples plucking and eating (harvesting and threshing to the Pharisees) kernels of grain on the Sabbath, and Jesus healing (“working”) on the Sabbath, both of which – eating and doing acts of charity – were lawful.

The legalist Pharisees saw Jesus and His followers as antinomians – those who were a threat to the people of God by preaching license, disobedience, and “everybody can do what’s right in his own eyes.”

My how the pendulum has swung in the other direction.

Today what we have is antinomians calling some of Jesus’ followers Pharisees because these modern-day antinomians believe that striving to obey God’s Word as written – nothing added, nothing taken away – is legalism.

Is it wrong to label everyone an antinomian who has called a brother or sister in Christ a Pharisee? After all, antinomianism is heresy. It’s a pretty serious charge – not one that should be casually and superficially flung around. Well, so is the charge of legalism, which these folks are leveling every time they call someone a Pharisee. If they’re going to dish out charges of heresy, they ought to be man or woman enough not to cry foul when that same charge is leveled against them.

But the truth is, among average Christians, there are very few actual full-blown legalists or full-blown antinomians. As with nearly every other aspect of Christianity, there’s a spectrum of antinomianism and legalism with heresy on either end, and the majority of Christians falling somewhere in the middle. Most genuinely born again Christians hover somewhere around that sweet spot in the middle that we would call obedience to Scripture, but we all have a general fleshly tendency toward legalism or antinomianism. And furthermore, we can tend toward one or the other in various issues in our lives. There are issues in my life in which I tend toward antinomianism out of fear of man, or because I want to give in to the desires of my flesh. And, there are issues in my life in which I tend toward legalism out of pride or a lack of trust in God. We can all fall into the ditch of antinomianism or legalism depending on the circumstances and our personal weaknesses and sins.

So when I say that Christians today who call their brothers and sisters in Christ Pharisees are antinomians, I don’t mean that the vast majority of them are full-on heretics who think Christians can go out and sin as much as they want and nobody has to obey Scripture. Honestly, I’ve never even met anybody like that. I’m talking about Christians who tend toward antinomianism when it comes to the specific area of ecclesiology. What does that look like in the life of the church? Often, it takes the shape of overlooking sin instead of dealing with it biblically in order not to make waves or hurt someone’s feelings. It can also find itself in those who get on the bandwagon of the latest Christian – or worldly – fad, method, celebrity, or worldview, and chiding those who rightly deem it unbiblical. A few examples I’ve experienced or been told of:

Do you expect Christians to be at church every week unless Providentially hindered? That’s legalism. You’re a Pharisee.

Dare to speak up against false teachers? That’s legalism. You’re a Pharisee.

Think worship should be reverent and orderly rather than evangeltainment hoopla? That’s legalism. You’re a Pharisee.

Do you believe it’s sin when women preach/teach the Scriptures to men or hold unbiblical authority over men in the gathered body of Believers? That’s legalism. You’re a Pharisee.

Have you ever asked why your church doesn’t practice church discipline? That’s legalism. You’re a Pharisee.

Do you warn your friends in apostate churches of the false doctrine they’re being taught? That’s legalism. You’re a Pharisee.

But who’s really the Pharisee today? Well, just like in Jesus’ day, it’s people who might (or might not) know Scripture, but they’re not handling it correctly. Sometimes, it’s well-known Christian leaders protecting their position and power. Sometimes it’s the people in the pew who like the status quo in evangelicalism, their church, or their family just fine, thank you very much, and they don’t want you bringing the Bible in and messing everything up.

Who’s today’s Pharisee? It’s often the person calling other Christians Pharisees.

As you might expect, the legalist Pharisees of Jesus’ day had hundreds of very specific, clearly defined laws you had to obey: You could only walk so many steps on the Sabbath. You had to wash your hands in a certain manner. You probably even had to fold your underwear a specific way.

Our modern-day antinomian-leaning “neo-Pharisees” have just a few nebulous, loosely defined rules of which they, not Scripture, are the final arbiters:

  • You can’t be unloving.
  • You can’t hurt people’s feelings.
  • You can’t rock the boat.
  • Why can’t we all just get along?

And though it was relatively easy to count the number of steps you took on the Sabbath or make sure your underwear stacked up at a 90° angle so you could stay on the right side of the legalistic Pharisees’ rules and regulations, it’s much harder to tell whether or not you’re obeying the neo-Pharisees’ laws.

Their laws, though few in number, are subjective, broadly interpreted and applied, and constantly changing. Charges of being “unloving,” for example, are not supported by Scripture passages in their proper context clearly defining biblical love, but are based on the personal feelings and opinions of the person leveling the charge. A “peace, love, and harmony” definition of “unity” is frequently prized over fidelity to Scripture. What was right last month could suddenly be wrong next week because it has upset someone.

It’s not easy to hit such a fast-moving target, and practically anything you say or do (even if it’s straight from Scripture) that rubs the neo-Pharisee the wrong way is going to break one of these rules – man-made rules that they insist other Christians keep or those other Christians either aren’t saved or are sinning. So while the quality of their rules is antinomian-ish, the application of their rules is legalistic. This is fleshing itself out in dozens of different ways in evangelicalism.

Case in point: progressive Christians who have taken up the social justice cause, particularly as it relates to race. One recent example – if you don’t see whiteness (whatever that means) as wicked and something you need to renounce, you’re not being loving to people who have darker skin than yours, and you’re hurting their feelings, and you’re refusing to get along with them. So because you’re breaking these laws the neo-Pharisees have made, you’re sinning at best and not saved at worst. But what is whiteness, precisely? How can I tell whether or not I’ve fully renounced it? What if I’ve fully renounced it in the eyes of one person but not another? Who is supposed to pronounce me absolved of this so-called sin? And daring to ask any of these questions or push back against these ideas can earn you the label of Pharisee.

Another example I’m hearing more and more people say they’ve been taken to task  about is tone. For some neo-Pharisees, it doesn’t matter how gently, kindly, and patiently you state a difficult biblical truth, if it hurts someone’s feelings or rocks the boat, you’ve been unloving and said it in a harsh tone. And you’ll probably get called a Pharisee.

But who is the judge of my tone or yours? One person’s “harsh tone” is another person’s “matter of fact tone”. One person’s “loving tone” is another person’s “spineless tone”. I once wrote an article about a certain false teacher about which I was told my tone was too harsh by some and too nice by others – about the same article! We all have different personal, subjective opinions about tone. The problem is that the neo-Pharisee is elevating her opinion about what constitutes an acceptable tone to the level of Scripture. Because if you use what she thinks is the wrong tone, you’re sinning.

So what is the solution to this messy morass of legalism, antinomianism, and neo-Pharisaism we suddenly find ourselves in in evangelicalism?

The Bible.

We must become good students of the Bible so we know exactly what it says – and doesn’t say. The Bible doesn’t condemn anyone as wicked based on the shade of her skin. But it does tell me I’m to love my brothers and sisters in Christ. It tells me that God shows no partiality and I shouldn’t either. The Bible doesn’t qualify which tones of voice are harsh and which are acceptable. When it talks about speaking the truth in love, it’s talking about motivation of heart – which only I can know and only God can judge – not tone of voice. Am I motivated by love? Does the Bible say we need to be faithful to the gathering of Believers or not? Does it really say women can’t preach to men or not? Is that person actually a false teacher according to Scripture or not? We need to know Scripture, so we can rightly obey Scripture, so that no one will actually be a Pharisee.

We’ve all got to do our best to present ourselves to God “as one approved, a worker who has no need to be ashamed, rightly handling the word of truth.” (2 Timothy 2:15) When I lean too far toward legalism, I need Scripture to pull me back to that sweet spot of simple biblical obedience. When you lean too far toward antinomianism, you need the Bible to bring you back to center on diligent biblical obedience. We need to help each other, iron sharpening iron, not call each other names.

Let’s get rid of Pharisaism once and for all and simply spur one another on toward holiness and obedience to God’s Word.


Additional Resources:

Sacrificing Truth on the Altar of Tone

What Does it Mean to “Play the Pharisee Card”?

Basic Training: Obedience: 8 Ways To Stop Making Excuses and Start Obeying Scripture


¹Pool photo courtesy of Protect-A-Child Pool Fence Company