Church

Throwback Thursday ~ Church Leadership Qualifications: Biblical or Pragmatic?

Originally published February 21, 2017

leadership-1959544_1280

When it comes to leadership positions in the church we often get ourselves into unnecessarily sticky situations because we put practical considerations – who is available, who is most talented, who is willing, etc. – above biblical qualifications.
When we fill a position of leadership or responsibility at church we first go to Scripture to find out if the person we’re considering for the position is biblically qualified to hold it. Practical considerations come second. A few examples:

1.

An elder or deacon just died and the church needs someone to replace him. The first place you go is 1 Timothy 3 and Titus 1, and you start by weeding out the men who don’t fit those qualifications. It doesn’t matter how willing they are or how great of a job they would do or what kind of connections they have or how much money they could bring into the church, they have to meet the biblical qualifications first.

2.

Your church is located near a neighborhood full of Chinese immigrants, most of whom don’t speak English. Someone comes up with the commendable, Great Commission-honoring idea to start a Bible study to reach out to the men and women of this community. The only person in your church who speaks Chinese is a woman, so she’s the natural choice to teach the class, right?

Wrong. We start with the biblical qualifications for teachers, and one of them (1 Timothy 2:12) is that women are not to teach men. She could certainly teach (assuming she is able to teach – language alone doesn’t make someone a good teacher) a women’s class, or a male could teach the class in English and she could translate, or a man could take the time to learn Chinese before the church begins offering the class, or if there is a Chinese man in the class who is able to teach, he could teach the men and she could teach the women. But the woman doesn’t teach a co-ed class herself because Scripture forbids this.

3.

A young couple starts attending your church. After a few months, they step up and say they’d like to sing on the worship team. They’ve both got great voices and would radically improve the quality of the music on Sunday mornings. As you chat with them about joining the team, you find out they’re living together (unmarried). They’re both well aware that this is sin, but disagree with what the Bible says about adultery and fornication and have no intention of repenting, marrying, or moving out. Matthew 18:15-17 and 1 Corinthians 5:11-13 are quite clear that people who continue in rebellion after being called to repent are not even to be members of the church, let alone lead in worship.

Remember that the practical way is not always God’s way. Remember that God’s ways are higher than our ways (Isaiah 55:9). Remember that “There is a way that seems right to a man, but its end is the way to death.” (Proverbs 14:12). Remember when Saul did what was good in his own eyes instead of obeying God’s word (1 Samuel 15). Remember what happened to Nadab and Abihu when they conducted worship their own way instead of God’s way (Leviticus 10:1-6).

Obeying God’s word is not always easy, practical, or convenient, but it is always best, biblical, and blessed.

Church

Throwback Tuesday ~ Revive Us Again

I’m flip-flopping the blog schedule a tad this week.
Enjoy this week’s Throwback Thursday – on Tuesday!

Originally published August 12, 2009

Thirty three per cent of clergy and thirty six per cent of laymen
report having visited a sexually explicit web site.
Christianity Today survey, August 2000

The divorce rate of born-again Christians (32%)
is higher than that of atheists and agnostics (30%).
Barna Research Group 20081

Twenty per cent of women who have abortions
are born-again or Evangelical Christians.
The Alan Guttmacher Institute, 1996

We rarely find substantial differences between
the moral behavior of Christians and non-Christians.
George Barna, Founder, Barna Research Group

You are the salt of the earth; but if the salt has become tasteless,
how can it be made salty again?
It is no longer good for anything, except to be thrown out
and trampled under foot by men.
Jesus, Matthew 5:13

Once upon a time, when I was a little girl, my parents took my sister and me to visit some of our elder relatives. For the evening meal, the lady of the house set a beautiful, formal table, complete with lovely crystal salt cellars at each place.

Having attended approximately zero formal dinners in my decade-long, casual dining existence, I had never seen a salt cellar. Since it happened to be sitting next to my goblet of unsweetened iced tea, I presumed it was my own personal sugar bowl.

I was puzzled as to why the spoon was so tiny, but forged ahead in an attempt to sweeten my tea with spoonful after spoonful…of salt. After one swig, I realized my mistake, but to maintain decorum, I did my best to eat my meal while taking an occasional small sip of the tea-flavored salt water. It was a long dinner.

I have never been so thirsty for a fresh drink of water before—or since—that moment.

We, the body of Christ, are supposed to be salt. Look around. How are we doing? By and large, instead of the church making the world thirsty for the Living Water, we have become so worldly ourselves that we are in danger of losing our savor altogether.

The Western church, the American church, the local church, maybe even your church—is in desperate need of revival. Not a revival meeting. Revival.

Revival is not a special event to win the lost. It is a time when God’s people, both individually and corporately, humble themselves, cry out to God in repentance and return to a fresh, empowered, obedient love relationship with Him.

Aren’t you tired of seeing statistics like the ones at the beginning of this article? Tired of the church having so little impact on a lost and dying world? Tired of simply going through the motions in your spiritual life and at church? Have you ever, as I have, taken a step back, looked at your walk and your worship, and said, “There’s got to be more to the Christian life than this”?

There is more. Much more. God desires that we have a full, exciting, vibrant, dynamic relationship with Him. But it’s going to cost us. It will cost our pride, our time, our repentance, our obedience, and our priority. It will require that we become dissatisfied and uncomfortable with the status quo of complacency.

I think we’re up for the challenge.

Turn away my eyes from looking at vanity,
and revive me in Your ways.
Psalm 119:37


 

1Take these statistics with a “grain of salt”. :0) Not everyone who claims to be a “born-again Christian” in a poll actually is one, the divorce stat has subsequently been proved false, etc. The idea is that the world has infiltrated the church, and the church has embraced the world, and therefore, the behavior of way too many professing Christians is worldly.

Church, Complementarianism, Worship

Throwback Thursday ~ Six Questions for a Potential Church

Originally published March 27, 2015

church questions1

Have you ever had to look for a new church? Even with recommendations from godly friends, it can be hard to know which churches and pastors are doctrinally sound, and, of those doctrinally sound churches (because you certainly don’t want to go to one that isn’t doctrinally sound), which ones would be a good fit for your family.

There are lots of great articles out there with good, probing questions you should ask about the theology and doctrine of a church you’re considering. (I would recommend this one, this one, and this one. Also, make sure you understand these doctrinal issues and that the church you’re considering lines up with Scripture on these issues.) However, there are times when the answers to these types of questions don’t give you the whole picture of what is actually going on in a church on a day to day basis. In other words, sorry to say, a church can give you all the right answers on paper (or on their web site), but their practices don’t mirror those answers. Additionally, there are some non-doctrinal issues that are important to know about that questions about soteriology, baptism, biblical inerrancy, etc., won’t give you the answers to.

My husband and I are currently looking for a new church for our family. Since we are Southern Baptist and somewhat familiar with the handful of Southern Baptist churches we’re looking at, we already know the answers to the most important questions (the inspiration of Scripture, the divinity of Christ, the way of salvation, etc.) But I want to zoom in a little more on the finer points of belief and practices of these churches, so here are some questions I might ask the pastor of the church we would potentially join.

1.
Which Christian authors have had the biggest impact on your life, beliefs, and ministry?

When I ask this question (and look over the pastor’s shoulder at the titles on his bookshelf), I’m listening for the names of authors and pastors, living or dead, that I know are committed to sound biblical doctrine. If I hear a name like Joyce Meyer, TD Jakes, Andy Stanley, Steven Furtick, Perry Noble, Rick Warren, Beth Moore, or any Word of Faith or New Apostolic Reformation personality, I’m going back to ask more probing doctrinal questions. If I hear multiple names like those, I’m outta there.

2.
Are you/this church complementarian or egalitarian?

Now you may not be familiar with those terms but any Christian pastor should be. It is a current issue in evangelicalism, and it’s part of his job to stay abreast of such things. I’m not looking for a pastor to be an expert on this topic, but he should be familiar with the terms and have a working understanding of the issues at play as well as the applicable Scriptures, and he should embrace and practice complementarianism as the biblical position.

Because I have been given the right “on paper” answer to this question in the past only to find out later that the church’s practices didn’t match up with its profession, I will probably ask the follow up question: “In what positions of leadership are women currently serving? Do any of them hold authority over men or instruct men in the Scriptures?” If I hear that women are (or would be allowed to in the future) teaching co-ed adult Sunday School classes, giving instruction during the worship service, serving on committees in which they hold biblically inappropriate authority over men, etc., that’s problematic.

3.
Can you give me some examples, from any time during your career as a pastor, of church
discipline issues that have arisen and
how you have handled them?

I’m looking for three things here. First, what does this pastor think constitutes a church discipline issue? If he thinks it’s necessary to discipline a female church member for wearing pants instead of a skirt, that’s an issue, because he’s disciplining someone who’s not sinning. If he doesn’t think it’s necessary to discipline church members who are unmarried yet cohabiting, that’s an issue because he’s not disciplining people who are sinning. Church discipline should only be exercised over unrepentant sinful behavior.

Second, is he afraid to exercise church discipline? Generally speaking, someone who has been a pastor for many years and has never handled a church discipline issue is either woefully ignorant of the biblical requirement of a pastor to rebuke those in sin, or he is afraid to rock the boat because he might get fired. Both of these are huge red flags.

Third, how does he exercise church discipline? Does he follow the steps outlined in Matthew 18 and other Scriptures with a heart to see the church member repent and be reconciled to Christ and the church body? Is he harsh and condemning? Is he firm enough in his resolve to carry all the way through to disfellowshipping a church member if necessary?

4.
How much oversight do you (or an
associate pastor or elder) have over the
women’s ministry at this church?

With this question, I’m trying to find out how much the pastor knows about what’s actually going on inside the women’s ministry (if they have one) and how much responsibility he takes to make sure all teaching and activities are in line with Scripture. Does he research and approve all teaching materials before a women’s Bible study commences? Does a women’s ministry director have complete autonomy over all materials and activities? Are all of the women in leadership positions in the women’s ministry godly and spiritually mature? Would any of the women’s ministry leadership raise a stink if someone showed them from Scripture that a Bible teacher whose materials they use or a women’s ministry activity they enjoy is unbiblical?

5.
Does the music ministry at this church follow a
minister of music model or a concert model?

There’s nothing wrong with Christian concerts per se, but my husband and I feel strongly (notice, I did not say “the Bible says”) that the worship service is not the place for one. We believe that a minister of music, preferably one who is ordained to the ministry, should lead and take responsibility for the church’s worship in a pastoral role. He should be trained in the Scriptures, preferably at seminary, in order to rightly handle and apply them to the music portion of the worship service and other music programs. He should also be trained in music theory and conducting so that he is able to lead in the practical aspects of music.

By contrast, we do not believe that making the music portion of the service like a concert, in which a band gets up and plays in a dark room with a laser light show and a smoke machine and the congregation can sing along if they want to, if they happen to know the songs, and if they are able to follow the ad libbing of the lead singer, is conducive to worship. We believe this tends to make the worship band into entertainers and the congregation into spectators, whereas the minister of music model fosters an atmosphere of “we’re all pulling together to do the work of worship as a unified body.”

This is not about contemporary music versus hymns, it is about one worship model versus another. It is our conviction (again, not a biblical mandate, but our strongly held conviction) after more than two decades in music ministry ourselves, that the minister of music model – regardless of the genre of worship music used – is the one most conducive to strong, biblical congregational worship. So this is something we’re going to want to know about, even though it is not necessarily a doctrinal issue.

6.
Do you preach topically or expositorily or both?

Topical preaching is when the pastor selects a topic to preach on (parenting, money, etc.) and uses biblical passages that apply to that topic to form his sermon. Pastors who preach expositorily usually preach through a book of the Bible from beginning to end before moving on to the next book.

Both are valid forms of preaching as long as God’s word is rightly handled and applied. However, it has been my experience that pastors who preach exclusively topically have more of a tendency to lift Bible verses out of their context in order to make them fit the topic they’re preaching. This is usually not as much of an issue for pastors who preach expositorily because they are simply preaching the Word, verse by verse, in its context.

Additionally, expository preaching gives church members a better understanding of Scripture and how it fits together, and exposes them more thoroughly to a wider range of biblical truth than exclusively topical preaching does. Therefore, I am looking for a pastor whose preaching style leans mostly towards expository, but who isn’t afraid to preach topically if he believes the church needs instruction on a certain topic.

So, those are some of the questions I’m thinking about asking. What questions would you ask when considering a new church?


For more resources on finding a new church, or what to look for in a church, click the Searching for a new church? tab in the blue menu bar at the top of this page.

Church

Throwback Thursday ~ Is It Really All Our Fault?

Originally published July 15, 2016

all our fault

“If the church would just _________,
the world would flock to us.”

“The world is in the state it’s in because
the church has fallen down on the job.”

Over the past few years, I’ve been hearing and reading statements like these more and more frequently. But are they true? Is the world really in such sad shape as a result of the failings of the church?

Yes!…and…no.

It is absolutely true that the visible church – everything that wears the label “church” or “Christian,” whether or not it’s biblical Christianity – has a lot to be ashamed of. Westboro. TBN. Homosexual church leaders and members. Pastors caught in adultery. Child molestation scandals. Female “pastors.” All manner of demonic behavior masquerading as “worship,” blasphemously attributed to the “Holy Spirit.”

Even churches with an orthodox statement of faith – which, to onlookers, seem to be doing fine, biblically – water down the gospel in the name of being seeker sensitive, use materials produced by false teachers, invite false teachers to speak at their conferences, fail to evangelize, place women in unbiblical positions of leadership, have pastors and teachers whose main form of teaching is eisegesis and pandering to felt needs, fail to provide for the needs of their members and their surrounding community, focus on fun and silliness in their youth and children’s ministries instead of Scripture and holiness, allow members to gossip, backbite, and exercise selfishness, fail to practice church discipline, make their worship services into irreverent entertainment-fests, have “pastors” who are little more than stand up comedians, and have largely biblically ignorant congregations.

Some churches are spiritually healthier than others, but nobody’s getting out of this one with clean hands. Even the healthiest church is doing something wrong in some little nook or cranny. And as Christ’s bride, it is incumbent upon us, whenever we discover those nooks and crannies, to repent, set things right, and do things biblically as we move forward.

Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her, that he might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, so that he might present the church to himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish. Ephesians 5:25b-27

That’s Christ’s vision of the church. A vision all churches fall woefully short of. And when the church fails in any area, it does contribute to the downhill slide of the world, because it is not being the city on the hill Christ wants it to be, and it is producing individual Christians (or false converts) who aren’t being the salt and light Christ wants them to be.

But is it fair to lay all the world’s woes and sinfulness at the doorstep of the church? Is it really true that if we would just clean up our act in this area or on that issue that we’d magically see an influx of pagans begging, “Sirs, what must I do to be saved?”

No, it isn’t.

The world isn’t steeped in sin because of the failings of the church. The world is steeped in sin because of the Fall.

Look back over history. The world was vicious and depraved long before the church ever came on the scene. And, for that matter, long before God set apart and established Israel as His chosen people. (Hello? The ante-diluvian world? Sodom and Gomorrah? Ancient Egypt? Baal and Molech worship?)

Examine any era in the last two millenia when you think the church was doing a better job than it is now and take a look at the society that church was situated in. The New Testament church? It was surrounded by a world of war, oppression, torture, debauchery, sexual deviance, slavery, misogyny, poverty, famine, and child abuse.

The head of the church, Jesus Christ, spent over thirty years physically present on this earth. We know He conducted His ministry perfectly. Not once did He fail to preach the gospel or provide for people’s needs or fall short in any other way. He even went so far as to lay His life down for the sin of the world. And what impact did that have on His immediate society? Did all the Pharisees repent and temple worship was restored to godliness? No. Did Rome stop ruling the world with an iron fist? No. Did acts of sedition and perversion and persecution suddenly disappear? No. In fact, some of those things actually got worse during and after Jesus’ time.

Just like He prophesied.

You see, Jesus didn’t say, “Be more like Me and the world will come running,” or “The church can solve the ills of the world.” He said:

If you were of the world, the world would love you as its own; but because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you. John 15:19

Indeed, all who desire to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted, while evil people and impostors will go on from bad to worse, deceiving and being deceived. 2 Timothy 3:12-13

The more the church and individual Christians look and act like Christ, the more world will hate, persecute, and ostracize us.

The church is not going to fix all the evils of society. And it’s not fair to lay that burden of responsibility – one that even Jesus’ earthly ministry didn’t accomplish – on believers who genuinely love their Savior and want to serve Him. Holding out the stick and carrot of a utopian world to the church – if only we’ll get our act together – does nothing but breed hopelessness, despair, and futility in the pews.

Does the church have a lot of repenting to do? Yes. Are there right hands we need to chop off and right eyes we need to gouge out in order to facilitate obedience to Christ? You bet. Should we be exponentially more proactive and passionate about preaching the gospel and meeting the needs of a lost and dying world? Absolutely.

But we do not do those things because we’re failing the world. We do those things out of love for and faithfulness to Christ. Christ is our goal, not a changed world. Christ is the prize we’re to fix our eyes on, not a society that behaves itself. Christ is the finish line we press toward, not domestic tranquility and morality.

Christ.

Because if it’s the church’s job to set the world right, we’re doomed. The world sins because the world is made up of sinners. And the world will continue to sin – even if every church on the planet suddenly becomes perfect – because the world is made up of sinners. But if the church’s highest attainment is love for Christ, faithfulness to Christ, and obedience to Christ, then we are successful in God’s eyes regardless of what the world around us looks like.

Let’s be faithful and trust God to handle changing the world.

Church

Servanthood

Originally published July 26, 2016brush-629657_1280

When we think about “ministry” or “serving the church,” we often – sometimes exclusively – think about Paul’s preaching, and forget about things like Jesus washing the disciples’ feet, the seven men who served the widows (Acts 6:1-6), the generous givers in Corinth (2 Corinthians 9), the Shunamite who provided a room for Elisha (2 Kings 4:8-10).

Ministry and servanthood are often dirty and unglamorous jobs that nobody else wants to do, but they’re filling a need. When you clean up the church kitchen after a fellowship meal, you are doing ministry. When you sit with a church member at the hospital, you are doing ministry. When you take a turn in the nursery, you are doing ministry. When you pray for your church, you are doing ministry. When you mow the church grounds or fix the leaky baptistery or watch someone’s child so she can keep an appointment, you are doing ministry. You’re not going to be applauded for doing these things. Few, if any, will even notice that they’ve been done, and some of those folks will complain about the way you did it.

And that’s OK, because ultimately, we aren’t doing it for them. We’re serving Christ (Colossians 3:23-24).

Notice the kinds of ministry Jesus commends believers for at the final judgment (Matthew 25:31-40). Not teaching dozens or preaching to hundreds or singing to thousands (though those things are certainly needful and commendable when done biblically), but providing food, drink, and clothing to needy brothers and sisters in Christ, welcoming strangers into the church, visiting sick or imprisoned church members. It’s the little, personal, one on one, taking care of each other’s needs that Christ praises.

“Truly, I say to you,” our King will say, “as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me.” (Matthew 25:40)

May we all get out of the mindset that the spotlight is the only route to ministry, put on our grungy clothes, roll up our sleeves, get down on our hands and knees, and do the dirty, lowly work of servanthood.