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, Holidays (Other), Worship

7 Ways to Honor Mothers During Your Mother’s Day Worship Service

Mother’s Day is just around the corner.

It’s nice to have a day set aside to recognize moms, be thankful for them, and appreciate them for all their hard work and everything they’ve done for us.

And if there’s anywhere motherhood should be honored, it’s in the church. Over and over, the Bible teaches us that motherhood is a high calling. A sacred trust. A solemn responsibility. No woman should ever be made to feel that she’s “just” a wife and mother. That’s the world’s perspective, not God’s.

So, pastors and women’s ministry leaders, how can the church best honor moms during the Mother’s Day worship service? Here are seven ways…

1.
Don’t

2.
No, seriously…don’t.

Yes, you read that right. Don’t make the sermon, songs, and prayers all about motherhood, and don’t do the typical “honoring of the mothers” hoo-hah that has become traditional in many churches during the Sunday worship service that coincides with Mother’s Day:

  • “Will all of our mothers please stand?” Congregation applauds. Sometimes a flower or other small gift is handed out to all the mothers standing.
  • Honoring of the youngest mother, or mother with the youngest baby present (“newest mother”) with a flower, gift, or corsage
  • Honoring of the oldest mother (strangely, I’ve never seen the mother with the oldest child present honored) with a flower, gift, or corsage
  • Honoring of the mother with the most children (or most children present) with a flower, gift, or corsage

Why? Because, though it might not be visible on the surface, when you do this, you open a Pandora’s Box of thoughts and emotions. And not all of those are godly or happy thoughts and emotions.

When you take people’s focus off worshiping God and put it on honoring people, what they’re going to be thinking about is their feelings toward the people being honored, and their feelings about themselves:

“That woman is the meanest old biddy in the church. She shouldn’t be getting honored for anything.”

“I have more children than she does, but some of mine live out of state. It’s not fair that she gets the corsage just because she guilted all of her kids – who don’t even go to church – into showing up today.”

“Us single women never get honored for anything.”

“I’d give anything to have a baby. Why them and not me, Lord?”

“This is excruciatingly embarrassing. Thanks for reminding me and the entire congregation that the reason I’m the youngest mother here is because I sinfully gave up my virginity at 14.”

Keep people focused on Jesus during the worship service. That’s where their focus is supposed to be anyway, and as an added bonus, you’ll avoid stirring up all of those often-ungodly thoughts and feelings.

3.
And especially don’t…

…do this thing that some churches have started doing of honoring all women on Mother’s Day. You think what you’re doing is preventing anybody’s feelings from getting hurt, but in many cases, you’re just pouring salt in the wound:

“Sorry you’ve been going through the agony of infertility for ten years. Here’s a piece of Christian kitsch for a consolation prize.”

“Here’s a carnation to highlight the fact that not only do you not have children, you’re in your forties and are still waiting for Mr. Right.”

“So you’re getting puked on, and pulled at, and you’re dealing with colic and temper tantrums and potty training every day, and your family budget is decimated and you’re operating on about three hours of sleep a night and you can’t even get five minutes alone in the bathroom? We’re going to take the woman sitting next to you who put her career first, has power, prestige, and position in the world, plenty of money in the bank, and all the “me time” she wants, and we’re going to honor her the same way we’re honoring you.”

That’s not how kind and loving churches mean it to come across, of course, but that’s how it can feel to the women being “honored,” nonetheless.

About thirty or so years ago, some well meaning person in kids’ sports came up with the idea of every team – win or lose, and every kid on every team- super jock or perpetual ball-dropper, getting a trophy at the end of the season so nobody’s feelings would get hurt.

It didn’t work. Those kids knew which teams had won the most games and lost the most games. They knew who the best players were and who always got sent out into deep, deep, deep right field (like I did). They knew who had earned the trophies and who had not. And when everybody got a trophy at the end of the season, it was a meaningless prize for the winners and feelings of shame for an undeserved award for the losers.

The women in your church know it’s Mother’s Day – a day for honoring mothers. And they know whether or not they are mothers and whether or not they’ve “earned,” so to speak, or qualified, for the honor you’re giving them.

If you really don’t want to hurt the feelings of women who aren’t mothers, keep everybody’s focus on Christ and His Word instead of on Mother’s Day.

4.
And along those same lines, don’t…

…reinforce narcissistic navel-gazing – the “it’s all about me and my feelings of worth / loss / sadness / fulfillment” that they’re already being fed by the truckload by the world and by pop-women’s “Bible” study.

Many women are already living life being led around by their noses by their feelings. They wear their feelings on their sleeves. They’re easily offended. They lash out at anyone who even inadvertently hurts their feelings. They demand that the sharp corners of the world be padded so their feelings won’t be hurt.

And if you’re doing the “honor all women” thing on Mother’s Day, I know you don’t mean to, but you’re subtly reinforcing that outlook and coddling any feelings of bitterness, discontentment, resentment, entitlement, and anger that are silently flying around the room. (“Please don’t freak out because the mothers all got a flower and you didn’t. Here, you can have a flower too.”)

Yes, the pain in the heart of a woman who has lost a child, has wayward children, has lost a mother, had an abusive mother, has been unable to conceive, or desperately wants to be married is deep and real. And it is absolutely and inarguably incumbent upon us as compassionate, caring, kind, and merciful followers of Christ to weep with those who weep in the midst of suffering.

But God also requires us to draw upon His strength, look past our own pain, and rejoice with those who rejoice. Just as it is good and right to comfort a friend who’s infertile or grieve with parents who have miscarried, it is also good and right for that friend and those parents to rejoice on Mother’s Day and Father’s Day with those whom God has chosen to bless with children, or to celebrate with loved ones who have just announced a pregnancy. We take the focus off ourselves and put it on others, just like Jesus did.1

If you really want to honor all the women in your church, counter the worldliness, fleshliness, and selfishness many of them are imbibing. Teach them – all year round – that God’s Word is their authority, not their feelings. Drill down on the golden rule. Show them how to put others first. Help them learn how to weep with those who weep and rejoice with those who rejoice.

5.
Don’t neglect…

…the ministry of the Word. What all Christians – mothers and non-mothers alike – need during the worship service is to have God’s Word proclaimed to them.

Now I know that some pastors will immediately respond, “But I’m going to be preaching the Word. I’m preaching on Naomi and Ruth / Mary / Hannah / Proverbs 31, etc.” And if you’re rightly dividing and expositing whatever that passage is, I’m not knocking that, but you’re the exception, not the rule.

Just some food for thought between you and the Lord as you consider your sermon on the Sunday of Mother’s Day…

  • Are you really rightly handling the Word, or is this basically a Hallmark homily or a sentimental eulogizing of mothers?
  • Are all of the Mother’s Day awards, songs, videos, testimonies, and so on cutting down on the sermon time so that you don’t have time to properly proclaim the Word?
  • Are you so focused on motherhood that you’re leaving out of the proclamation of God’s Word anyone who’s not a mother – men, children, childless couples, singles?
  • If your ladies aren’t yet well schooled in not being led by their feelings, and/or you’re of a mind not to hurt anyone’s feelings, is your motherhood-focused sermon going to hurt the feelings of women who aren’t mothers (and are you going to get an earful about it on Monday morning)?
  • Are your Mother’s Day and Father’s Day sermons accidentally falling into the pattern many have noted in recent years: mothers can do no wrong, and fathers can do no right, mothers are “saints,” and fathers are “sinners”?
  • If you’re typically an expository preacher and a motherhood-focused sermon deviates from the book you’re currently preaching through, are you deviating because God is leading you to do so? Or is this deviation being led by the calendar? Or by the thought that the women of your church will pitch a fit if you don’t focus on motherhood during the Mother’s Day sermon?
  • Do you realize that many doctrinally sound mothers prefer that you keep right on preaching through whatever book you’re currently in because they’re enjoying it and God is using it to grow them? I’m one of them, and I’ve heard from many others like me: “I don’t want to hear how great I am. I want to hear how great Christ is.”

6.
Don’t overlook…

…the fact that there are lots of ways and times you can honor and encourage mothers besides during the Mother’s Day worship service.

  • When you’re preaching through a book and come to a passage about mothering, go ahead lift up what the Word says about mothering. (That might sound a little contradictory to what I’ve already said, but preaching about motherhood on October 9 or July 31 is a lot less emotionally triggering than it is on Mother’s Day. Plus, there’s a good chance the passage isn’t exclusively about motherhood.)
  • Have a Mother’s Day potluck or picnic – everyone invited, of course – after the service where the dads and kids do all the set up, cooking, and clean up. (And have one for Father’s Day, too, with moms and kids serving!)
  • Host a parents’ night out from time to time to give moms a break and give husbands and wives some quality time together.
  • Make sure you’ve got Titus 2:3-5 going on, in some form, in your church. Young women need spiritual moms to lean on and to train them.
  • Make a baby cry/nursing room (with sermon piped in) and a nursery available during the worship service for those who want them, and offer children’s classes or child care whenever adult classes are offered. Also, don’t make being on the nursery rotation a requirement for moms to leave their children in the nursery.

    I know these ideas won’t be popular with some churches, but hear me out: as a young, stay at home mom with lots of small children, some weeks the only time I made it out of the house and got to talk to other adults was Sundays and Wednesdays at church. The churches I belonged to that offered a nursery and the other aforementioned amenities served, honored, appreciated, and loved me well by doing so. I needed that brief time of undistracted respite in God’s Word with God’s people to rest, recharge, and keep from losing my mind.

A quick “Happy Mother’s Day to all you moms out there!” from the pastor is no big deal, but, generally speaking, keep the focus on God during the worship service, and have fun honoring Mom some other time.

7.
And most importantly, don’t forget…

…God. A worship service isn’t (nor should it be) like any other gathering of people. At any other gathering of people, people are in charge, and people are the focus. People decide the reason for the gathering, the theme of the gathering, who or what the gathering is to center on, who’s going to run things, which materials are or aren’t appropriate for the gathering, which activities are going to take place during the gathering, and what’s going to please or displease the people who are gathering.

Not so with a worship service. God dictates all of those components and parameters in His Word, and we obediently carry them out.

The reason for the worship service is to honor God – not mothers or any others – and worship Him.

The theme of the worship service is worshiping God.

The worship service is to center on God.

The men God has appointed to the offices of pastor and elders are to run things during the worship service.

The only appropriate materials for the worship service are God’s Word and materials that focus our worship on God and His Word.

The activities that are to take place during the worship service – the proclamation of the Word, prayer, praise, singing, and giving offerings – are prescribed by God in His Word and directed to God.

And the worship service isn’t about what’s pleasing or displeasing to the people in attendance, it’s about what’s pleasing to God.

Should mothers be appreciated, even honored, by the church? Sure! But not during the time we’ve specifically set aside to honor God. And really, shouldn’t mothers and motherhood be appreciated and honored much more than one hour a year?

Happy Mother’s Day to all you moms out there!

Let’s hear from you, readers.
What’s a great way to honor moms and motherhood that keeps the
focus of the worship service on God, where it’s supposed to be?


1Excerpted from my article Safe Spaces and Wearing Our Hearts on Our Sleeves: 6 Ways to Follow Jesus’ Example of Handling Hurt

Sermons, Worship

Sermon: Biblical Worship

It’s not often you get to hear a great sermon out of Leviticus, so I wanted to share this one with you, preached by my friend Laramie Minga, Pastor of Worship and Discipleship at Woodlawn Baptist Church, Baton Rouge, Louisiana.

If you’re a new Christian or maybe you’re just coming out of an unbiblical “church” and you’re not quite sure what biblical worship in a doctrinally sound church is supposed to look like, this sermon will help. And even if you are in a solid church with biblical worship, Laramie’s sermon will be an encouragement to you. The worship pastor at your own church might even enjoy giving it a listen.

The text for the sermon is Leviticus 10:1-11.

Here’s the visual for the elements of worship around the 37:34 mark:

I hope you’ll enjoy this great teaching from God’s Word as much as I did!

Worship

Tuneful Tuesday

Today, I thought I’d share with you some of the music I’ve been listening to lately. Enjoy!

That’s What the Bible Says by The Collingsworth Family
“I don’t need no signs and wonders to know that God is real..” Gotta love it!

Send the Light by Acapeldridge
This is a little different version than I’ve always heard, but I like it!

He Giveth More Grace by The Living Stones Quartet
Like a lullaby for a grownup. Just try to listen without a Kleenex. I dare ya!

I Know that My Redeemer Liveth by George Frideric Handel
Yes, Virginia, there are other songs in The Messiah besides the Hallelujah Chorus, and this is a lovely one.
Step of Faith by First Call
Yes, I was a First Call fan in the 80’s. Don’t judge. :0)

I do not necessarily endorse all of the songwriters or performers listed here, the churches/organizations they represent, any other songs they may have written or performed, or their theology. If you decide to follow any of these people or groups, check out their theology first to make sure it’s biblical.


What are you listening to lately?

Church, Worship

Throwback Thursday ~ Rolling Out the Welcome Wagon

Originally published August 25, 2010

The LORD said to him, “I have heard your prayer and your supplication, which you have made before Me; I have consecrated this house which you have built by putting My name there forever, and My eyes and My heart will be there perpetually. I Kings 9:3

As Golden Girl Sophia would say, “Picture it:”

After church one Sunday, a friend says, “Why don’t you come over to my house tomorrow night for dinner?”

So, the appropriate time comes on Monday evening, and you drive over to her house. The door is standing open because she is expecting you, and you’re familiar enough with each other that you feel comfortable just walking on in.

As you’re walking in, you see your friend standing there, and you say to her, “I invite you into this house! You are welcome here!”

Anything seem a little off about that?

Well, of course that seems strange. It’s her house.

But that’s what is taking place in churches all over America every Sunday morning. I saw it in a televised local church service last week. The worship leader stood up to lead the first song and said, “God we welcome you into this place!” I’ve heard others say things like, “Lord, we invite you into this house this morning!” We sing songs like Holy Spirit, Thou art Welcome and Lord, we Invite You.

‘Scuse me? Isn’t the church God’s house?

Of course, it isn’t God’s house in the same way the temple was God’s house, in that there isn’t a holy of holies where the actual presence of God resides. On the other hand, I wouldn’t go so far as to say that it’s only a building, like the post office or a doughnut shop.

At some point, way back when, or maybe even recently, a body of Believers got together and asked God to give them a place where they could worship Him. God saw fit to answer that prayer. He provided the land, the permits, and every brick, nail, and piece of sheetrock. He allowed His name to be placed there when we decided to call it “Grace Fellowship”, “St. Luke’s”, or “First Baptist”. He protects that building and allows it to stand as a testimony to the community: God, and God’s people, can be found here.

It’s not your church. It’s not my church. It’s God’s church. And it exists for His glory.

But somewhere along the way, we’ve forgotten that. Somewhere along the way, we gave God an eviction notice and became squatters on His property. How arrogant have we become that we strut into church as though we own the place, and dare to invite Him, to welcome Him into His own house as though He were a guest? How dare we?

Maybe it’s partly because we no longer have a holy of holies that we don’t see God’s house as sacred. “Ah,” you may say, “but that’s Old Testament thinking. Now we understand that when we gather together in His name, He is with us.”

Really?

When it’s my church, my comfort, my pew, my ministry that nobody else better touch, my style of music, my opinion about how long the sermon should be, my feelings that got hurt, my idea of how things should operate, what I got out of the service, are we really gathering in His name?

Welcome, Lord. Are You sure You want to come in?