Pastor

Worship Style & the Sufficiency of Scripture

John Frame’s excellent The Doctrine of the Word of God on the relationship between different styles and traditions in worship and the sufficiency of the Bible:

“Many traditions have also developed concerning worship and other aspects of church life. These concern the style and instrumentation of worship songs, the order of events in worship, degree of formality or informality, and so on. Many of these are not commanded by Scripture, but many are in accord with broad biblical principles. The problem is that church people will sometimes defend their particular practice as mandatory on all Christians, and they will criticize as spiritually inferior churches that use different styles and patterns. Often the criteria used are not scriptural, but aesthetic. People argue that this style of music is more dignified, that that liturgy is more ancient, and so forth. These aesthetic and historical criteria are often used in place of Scripture, leading to the condemnations of practices that Scripture permits and commanding of practices that Scripture does not command. That … in my judgment, violates the principles of sola Scriptura, the sufficiency of Scripture.” (p. 238)

Advertisements

Saying Goodbye

This evening, I read the letter below to our church family. I let the other pastors in our church know of God's leading this way in July. We would appreciate your prayers for God's guidance regarding our next steps. I am thankful to God for the opportunities that He has blessed us with as a result of our time at Hampton Park.

Dear Brothers and Sisters,

It is hard to believe that we are in my sixth year of serving as a pastor at Hampton Park Baptist Church. It has been one of the great joys in my life to serve here and love and be loved by this flock. I thank God for the gifts that He has given this body and the way that you all have used those gifts to minister to Liz, our girls, and me.

I have known virtually no other church than Hampton Park. For the past 32 years, with the exception of a few months away for ministry at various times, I have attended and served in this local body, and I thank God for the influence of the members here in my life. This body has been incredibly generous and gracious to me and my family. Much of who I am today is a result of the ministry of people here. Thank you for your kindness. You wept with us when my dad died, and you rejoiced with us in the subsequent salvation of two of my brothers and more recently in the birth of our two daughters. Space does not permit me to recount all the grace you have shown us. I love you and will forever be deeply indebted to you.

Through a variety of circumstances, the Lord has made it evident to Liz and me that He is moving us on from Hampton Park to pursue ministry elsewhere. We are praying for the growth and continued ministry of this body, and it will always remain dear to our hearts. We greatly desire your prayers for the days ahead, and you certainly have ours.

May God's grace and peace guide you as you seek the health of this body for His glory.

Love your brother in Christ,

Joshua

 

Pursuing Peace without Man-Pleasing

How do we live at peace with everyone, without getting into man-pleasing?

  • Recognize that pleasing God is your most important priority. This takes the pressure off of other relationships.
  • Enjoy the fact that you will ultimately be judged by God, not men. But let this put the fear of God into you too. Romans 12:19 Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God, for it is written, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.”
  • Remember that you aren't the ultimate judge of others and that your conscience or judgment could be wrong.
  • Recognize that God has established a natural hierarchy of relationships for you (spouse, children, immediate family, church, friends, etc.).
  • Remember that truly loving others means that you are opposed to anything that would threaten their good. This means you don't agree to things that are against God's revealed will, against God's design, or against your conscience.
  • Seek to have a pleasant disposition that is gracious toward others. When you disagree, don't do it in a way that stirs up unnecessary strife. We've all been around people who agree with us in a way that makes us want to distance ourselves from them.
  • When you disagree, agree to disagree. Do this in a way that recognizes the disagreement clearly (don't give a false impression) but charitably (speaking the truth in love).
  • Be quick to forgive. Colossians 3:13 Bearing with one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive.

 

When Finding Peace Is a Battle

What do we do when it feels like we're trusting God, yet we still feel like we don't have peace? Our anchor for peace is what is taught in Isaiah 26:3-4 and elsewhere: subjective peace requires reliance on God. But what happens when we are asking God for faith to rest in Him, and we still don't seem to be enjoying peace? What do you do when the battle for peace doesn't seem to work?

First, we must never lose our anchor.

We often take our eyes off of God and focus them on our problems. This results in frustration and turmoil. God, our Everlasting Rock, hasn't changed, but our thinking is more informed by our circumstances than our relationship with God. So, look to Jesus, run to God in faith, asking Him for grace to trust Him and peace in the midst of difficult circumstances.

Second, we must never blame our circumstances.

Circumstances are not an excuse for our failure to trust God. It is my fault because I fail to trust God. Sin around us cannot be an excuse for our lack of peace. Think about Paul and Silas in the jail at Philippi. Their circumstances couldn't have been much worse, yet they were singing hymns to God. What is your response when you face difficult circumstances? Do you rest in God, or do you take your eyes off of the Savior?

So … we can't lose our anchor or blame our circumstances. But living at peace with others in this world still requires great wisdom. It is possible to enjoy peace with God, yet not enjoy peace with all men. What do we do at those times?

Romans 12:18 If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all.

Paul teaches believers that we should pursue peace with everyone with great effort. The point is that being at peace with others requires intentional focus. As much as it up to us, we ought to be at peace with others.

What the New Testament says here, it also says elsewhere. Consider the following passages:

  • Romans 14:19 So then let us pursue what makes for peace and for mutual upbuilding.
    • Paul is referring to something more than a casual nod of the head. He means that having peace with others requires intentional focused effort.
  • Ephesians 4:1-3 1 I therefore, a prisoner for the Lord, urge you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called, 2 with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, 3 eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.
    • The eagerness in verse 3 has the idea of expending every effort. We should exercise ourselves toward the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. We should give our best effort and be diligent in the pursuit of peace.
  • Hebrews 12:14 Strive for peace with everyone, and for the holiness without which no one will see the Lord.
    • “Strive” is the same word for “pursue” in Romans 14:19. It is used negatively to speak of persecution–in other words, persecutors, pursue or chase after believers. We should chase after peace with great zeal.

How do we live at peace with everyone, without getting into man-pleasing? We'll consider that question in the next post.

Cross-Dressing and the Christian

Have you ever run into someone in an awkward situation that was precipitated by their lifestyle choice? My family and I were recently eating in town when a man whom I had known from childhood walked in dressed in drag–complete with high heel boots, stockings, and mini skirt. This friend has made lifestyle choices that go along with his dress. We grew up in the same church, under the same preaching, and have much of the same cultural and educational background. My purpose here is not to discuss what motivates someone like this to make the choices he has made. Rather, I'd like to consider what an appropriate response for a Christian should be. How should we respond to a friend or acquaintance in a situation like this? Following are four characteristics that should characterize interactions like this.

Loving

The first thing that should characterize the believer's response to any situation is love. So, we should guard ourselves from mocking, scorning, or laughing in a way that demonstrates we have forgotten this person is made in the image of God. Demeaning behavior shouldn't characterize our interactions with any person, no matter how put-off we may feel by them. We ought to ask God to replace our proud thoughts with true love, with a heart that is concerned for the soul of this person.

Friendly

It seems appropriate in a case like this to look the person in the eye, smile, and shake his hand. To demonstrate that I still value him personally and that I can relate to him as one made in the image of God. Friendliness is not the same as love. Friendliness is also not the same as wholesale acceptance. More on this in a moment.

Reserved

What I'm not saying here is that believers should intentionally act awkward and reserved around those who are different. However, I believe it's also likely that there will be some sense of awkwardness in the greeting and in the relationship. A friend living any sort of inappropriate lifestyle–heterosexual, homosexual, drug-addicted, drink-addicted, etc.–should feel somewhat awkward around obedient Christians. Not because we don't demonstrate love and kindness, but precisely because we demonstrate concern for them while recognizing that their sin causes great harm to the image of God in them. Our response to their open sin should always be moderated by recognizing that we are sinful too and that only the grace of Christ can rescue us from our sin.

Honest

I don't believe that every conversation with an egregiously sinning friend should be about the person's sin–in fact, most of them probably shouldn't be, or you won't be friends very long! However, I do believe that we should take opportunity to lovingly confront sin in light of the relationships that God has given us. Friendliness is not the same as love. True love is opposed to anything that attacks a person's good. If there's never any open confrontation of sin, we are not truly loving our friend. Because sinful choices attack the true good of another human being, we should oppose sinful choices. Sometimes it will result in relational tension, but it should never be because I have rejected a person outright because I don't like what they've done. It must always be about God's holiness and their good. I can oppose sin in a winsome way, in a way that says, “I respect you because you are made in the image of God, but you are doing irreparable damage to that image, apart from the rescuing grace of Jesus Christ.”

Summary: winsome opposition

In summary, I believe we should winsomely oppose sin–in our children, in ourselves, and in those that sin blatantly and openly. I'm giving thought to this because I've encountered several situations like this, and I'm confident I'll encounter many more. I pray that God will help me equip my family and church to respond with truth and grace as we seek to winsomely oppose sin.

 

Comfort and Confrontation

“So what do you do all week, anyway?”

If you're a pastor, you've probably heard that question more than once. Some people have the idea that pastors enjoy a six-day weekend, with one day of work on Sunday. Others picture them as spending all day every day reading and studying. Others might have the idea that a pastor meets people, drinks coffee, listens, and talks–almost like a psychologist with a spiritual twist.

Pastoral work might be summarized as “leading and feeding.” Or as shepherding. Or as overseeing. Or as preaching and teaching. A good pastor does all of these things. However you articulate the overall function of a pastor, one of the main areas of any pastor's job is member care–spiritually caring for the souls of the people God has brought to his local church.

What does member care look like? There's a sense in which you can sum it up in these two words: comfort and confrontation. Here's a glimpse into some experiences in a week of member care (none of these are recent, so any similarity to you is a coincidence!!):

Comfort:

  • Praying for members: pastors gathering to pray for each church member by name, systematically and alphabetically; praying specifically and repeatedly for members that are hurting, wandering, or flagrantly sinning.
  • Visiting the family of a church member whose loved one is dying in their home; praying with the family and just being there during the last hours of a beloved saint's life.
  • Calling a church member who is out of state for the funeral of an adult child; encouraging him and letting him know that we love him, are praying for him, and are rallying around him during these difficult days.
  • Meeting for prayer and fellowship with a brother who is earnestly seeking to lead and shepherd his family; praising the Lord for His faithfulness to this brother.
  • Encouraging a father whose child has rejected the Lord and seeking to counsel him about how to evangelize this child who is still at home.

Confrontation:

  • Counseling individuals experiencing significant struggles in their home; confronting sin as it comes to light and calling these brothers and sisters to repentance and to living in light of the gospel.
  • Confronting a brother who is admittedly struggling to lead at home; encouraging him to fulfill his God-given roles and responsibilities; and exhorting him to believe that God has empowered him for this ministry.

Comfort and confrontation involve much more than this, but for the pastor, there is great joy in the process of leading and feeding church members and seeing them grow to be more like Jesus.

 

Christian Celebrity & First Impressions (Part 2)

In part 1, we considered that we have only one opportunity to make a first impression. While first impressions can be undone over time, we often don't get a second chance to demonstrate focused attention to the person right in front of us. The same is true for churches and church leaders.

Reflections for Churches:

What is the impression of those who walk in your doors for the first time? Do you give the impression that you are processing numbers (i.e., people) so that you can get to the main show? Is “checking in” at your church like checking in at the airport or a ball game? “Get these people through so that we can get the show started!”

Corporate worship is vital–you can't have a church without it! But corporate worship apart from genuine care for the people there is merely a show. It's an excercise in “mini Christian celebrity.” The people on the platform are looked at from afar, as people are drawn (or not drawn) to the personalities on the stage.

Have you given intentional thought about how to welcome and incorporate those outside your church who are just getting a first impression of your church? Corporate worship is essential, but it's not sufficient for showing love to those who are part of your church body and for showing true Christian hospitality to those who come in from the outside.

Be on the lookout for ways to actively demonstrate genuine interest and care for those who walk in. Develop a strategy for church leaders and church members to demonstrate tangible love to those who come from the outside. Think about the way you'd like to be treated and welcomed. We often greet and welcome visitors in such an awkward way that it's no surprise they feel conspicuous!

Reflections for Church Leaders:

Brothers, do you demonstrate genuine care for the people in your church? Do you wish that your sheep weren't so obstinate and difficult to work with? It may do us some good to reflect that those we serve may have the same thoughts about us!

We should seek to be where we are, to care about the person right in front of us, to demonstrate to that person that we aren't thinking about the next person in line or the next project or the next element in the order of worship.

We should give intentional time to thinking through first impressions for those outside of our church body and continuing care for those inside our church body. We should repent of impatience and a lack of care for the people right in front of us. When we mess up–or sin outright–we should be willing to repent publicly (when appropriate) and privately. While people may be drawn to celebrity from a distance, the nature of true humility is much more winsome up close than airbrushed celebrity perfection is from afar.

Don't overestimate your value to your church or to the kingdom of God. Recognize that God is doing something much greater than making you and your church look awesome. Love the person right in front of you, and trust that God will grow His church, in spite of your imperfections. He built His church for centuries without you, and He will keep building HIS church when you are gone!

 

Christian Celebrity & First Impressions (Part 1)

I have a natural distaste for anything that even remotely smells like celebrity. I've been at conferences where the stage was crowded with people eager to meet the speaker/singer/etc. Generally speaking, I avoid such things like the plague.

Over the last few years, I've seen a good number of articles about Christian celebrity. Authors (who are often Christian “celebrities” themselves) typically take one of two tacts: (1) Christian celebrity is terrible, and we should get over it; (2) Christian celebrity is inevitable, so we should embrace it and leverage it.

While I have no desire to make a judgment about Christian celebrity in general, I recently had two experiences that were instructive. Earlier this month, I “ran into” two brothers (both pastors) in Christ who are–more or less–Christian celebrities. Reflecting on these two (separate) meetings has given me some thoughts on what Christian celebrities are and are not.

Meeting 1:

After an introduction from a mutual friend, this brother greeted me warmly and acted grateful to meet me (though he didn't know me from Adam and had no reason to). After a brief conversation and an offer to buy me coffee (we were in Starbucks), he moved on. My impression of this brother: he was a kind, godly man who genuinely cares about people. Very positive.

Meeting 2:

Upon my saying hello, I had the distinct impression that this brother could not wait to be done with his conversation with me. I thanked him for his ministry to me and many other pastors. My impression of this brother: he was dismissive and disinterested. Quite negative.

Reflections:

While acknowledging that the second brother may have been (and probably was) merely having a bad day, I realized that our impression of people is often formed really quickly. I have profited from both of these pastors from a distance and will continue to do so. They are merely humans like the rest of us.

I'm sure that there are people who have met me (a non-celebrity by any measure!) and have thought I was pretty nice. They probably left with a very positive impression. I'm sure others have met me at a time when I was in a hurry or when I was mentally in another world and had a very negative impression. We have opportunities to make first impressions regularly, and we have only one chance to do so. I pray that God gives me the grace and alertness to be where I am, to talk with the person right there in front of me. In a day of increasing digital distraction, I find myself more and more tempted to mentally be somewhere else.

One pastor who impacted my life when I was younger often said the following: “Be where you are.” Great counsel.

In part 2, we'll consider some implications for churches in light of what I learned from these two meetings.

 

Don’t Oversell! (part 2)

PART 2

“If everything is mission, nothing is.”

In their excellent book, What Is the Mission of the Church, Greg Gilbert and DeYoung make the case, “If everything is mission, nothing is.” They advocate a careful articulation of the church's mission and caution against expanding the mission beyond making disciples. Of course, making disciples can have many different strategies, but it's important for leaders to remember that specific strategies are theirs … not Jesus's.

Organizations that must oversell to promote basic projects are often characterized by two key factors: (1) lack of trust and (2) lack of vision.

Lack of Trust

Integrity and trustworthiness are the most compelling reasons to follow a leader. Leaders who oversell are marked by a desire to push their projects … even at the expense of those they serve. Because such leadership is marked by personal ambition masquerading as Christian ambition, the people who follow these leaders “smell” insincerity and personal aggrandizement in their leaders. They may not be able to articulate the precise reasons for their unease, but something doesn't feel right. Because the members of the organization are uneasy and don't trust their leaders, leadership must overstate their case in order to convince the people that a project is worthwhile.

Organizations characterized by trust between leaders and followers can simply make the case for a project within the realm of normal rationale.

Lack of Vision

A second characteristic which marks organizations that oversell their projects is the lack of a compelling vision. Bill Hybels put it well when he said, “A vision is a picture of the future that produces passion.” The fact that a leader must oversell is an indicator that he has failed to provide a compelling vision. People are drawn to inspiring causes with trustworthy leaders.

Consider the millions of dollars that are being given to the states of New Jersey and New York in the wake of Hurricane Sandy. If the mayor of New York City had appealed for help two months ago, his pleas would have been met with laughter. The harder the public laughs, the harder the mayor sells … and oversells. People learn not to take him seriously.

Fast forward to the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy. There is a compelling cause, a vision of the future–a restored city with safe water, good shelter, and adequate food. Money comes pouring in as city leadership demonstrates that it's using donations in a responsible way.

Conclusion

Organizations that oversell are paving the way to their own demise. Even as projects are accomplished, the lack of trust and compelling vision are disenfranchising those whom the organization depends on for its lifeblood. As people realize that the leadership has once again overstated its case, trust continues to erode, eating at the foundation of goodwill that once characterized relationships between leadership and members of the organization.

Don't oversell! Trust in a sovereign God to provide. Rather, devote yourself to carrying out ministry in a way that demonstrates integrity and a commitment to a clear, compelling vision.

See part 1 of this post.

 

Don’t Oversell! (part 1)

PART 1

“This project = God's work in the earth and His mission for you.”

Perhaps you, like me, have heard a ministry present a project that makes claims which amount to the statement above. The implication is that those who don't support the project have failed to support God's mission in the world today.

These attempts are well-meaning, but they indicate a disturbing willingness to use the church's mission to manipulate the church. After all, if God wants this done, who am I to stand in His way?

Each such attempt, in my view, is an attempt to oversell, because the case for a project is difficult to make. Remember the lawyer who said something like this? “When you have evidence on your side, emphasize the evidence. When you have public opinion on your side, appeal to the empathy of the jurors. When you have neither, pound the table.”

Efforts to sell or promote a project that seem “over the top” are often a sign that the project is difficult to make a case for. Attempting to equate a project with the mission of Christianity is itself an indicator that the promoters need to go back to the drawing board.

Case study:

X Church decides to install a swimming pool and host swim teams as a local outreach. The church leadership promotes the project as God's way for X Church to fulfill the Great Commission. Furthermore, the pool provides a convenient place to baptize those who will inevitably flock to the church through the swim team ministry.

The problem with the leadership of X Church is that they have failed to consider that the proposed swimming pool is merely a way of advancing the cause of Christ. It certainly is not the way, and it may not even be the best way. The myopic view of the leadership prevents them from seeing the mission of the church advancing in their community, apart from the aquatic center. They have failed to consider that perhaps those who oppose the project do so, not out of disdain for the community and the unevangelized, but out of love for the community that sees more beneficial ways to use the same resources.

Next week, in part two, we'll consider “overselling” and its deeper implications for Christian organizations.

See part 2 of this post.