Thursday, June 28, 2007

What is Evangelism? Part 1

I'm going to try to do a series here that answers the question, "What is Evangelism?" It may only be two posts; it may be five. No big promises here. But it occurs to me that answering this question is very important because, by all accounts at the last convention, the problem with the SBC is that we aren't doing enough of it. Even the President of the Convention said so, and I do not doubt that it's true.

So let's get a rudimentary definition of "evangelism." I'll say that evangelism is the heralding of the gospel of God. This can be one on one, or it can be done in crowds of thousands. That sounds easy enough, but the concern I have is that we have lost the key component of evangelism: the gospel itself. If we have no sound gospel, then we have no evangelism. Do you suppose this is what President Page means?

Secondly, I am afraid that we have lost the purpose of evangelism. I will say, just to get things going, that the chief end of the gospel/evangelism is not to get people saved. I believe that even if we have a sound gospel, if we try to use it in a way that it is not intended, or expect from it what it was never intended to do, then we will become frustrated with it. Sort of like trying to use a screwdriver to drive a nail. Or better yet, trying to turn a screw with the tip of a butterknife. While I believe that it is true that many "evangelicals" could not give a satisfactory answer for "What is the Gospel?" I believe that most would do even worse with, "What is evangelism for?"

I wrote that the chief end of the gospel is not for the salvation of people. Though by God's grace, many are saved through its proclamation. The reason this cannot be its chief end and primary purpose is because not everyone is saved by the gospel. Let me through another point in here; I believe that neither evangelism or the gospel fail in their purpose. My outline looks like this:

1. Evangelism is the heralding of the gospel.
2. Evangelism never fails in its chief end.
3. Often, people are not saved after they are evangelized.
4. Therefore, the chief end of the evangelism cannot be the salvation of souls.

So if evangelism's chief end is not for the salvation of souls, what is the purpose of evanglism? My simple answer is that evangelism, which is the heralding of the gospel, has for its chief end the glorification of God. This, I believe, should be self-evident and basic. It should not shock, and after building up to that point, you may have hoped that I was going for something a bit more profound.

If it is true that the chief end of evangelism is to glorify God, is it true that evangelism never fails in its purpose? I say that yes, it never fails. "Now thanks be to God who always leads us in triumph in Christ, and through us diffuses the fragrance of His knowledge in every place. For we are to God the fragrance of Christ among those who are being saved and among those who are perishing. To the one we are the aroma of death leading to death, and to the other the aroma of life leading to life. And who is sufficient for these things?" (2 Cor. 2:14-16). When we herald the gospel, we are always a pleasing aroma to God, regardless of whether people believe.

If this is true, then why is it that almost every year our success in evangelism is measured in terms of conversions and/or baptisms? Why is it that we push men and women onto the mission field with pleas to go to people who are "starving for the gospel?" Do we wonder why missionaries and church members burn out after going "door to door" and living amongst the lost when they see no conversions? The reason they get so discouraged is because, on some basic level, we are taught that the purpose of evangelism is to get people saved. I cannot imagine a more potentially discouraging situation.

One of my chief discouragments, year after year, is to hear evangelism preached at the convention in terms of "we've got to win people to Jesus." God knows that I long to see people won to Christ with all my heart. But what I long for above all things, indeed the chief end of my life, is to see God glorified. Maybe missionary and evangelistic endeavor is marked as "failure" because we have forgotten what it is for. Couldn't one, just one pastor stand at the convention and preach on evangelism as if God's glory is at stake and not just the fate of wretched, rebellious people who hate Him with every fiber of their being? When I say that His glory is at stake in the gospel and evangelism, I do not mean that He is gambling His glory there as if He could lose it or gain it according to our faithfulness. Rather, I mean that His glory is at stake in terms of our seeing it manifested, by salvation or by glorious judgment, if we do not herald it.

Tomorrow, we'll have to answer, "What is the Gospel?" if we want to understand evangelism better. Stay tuned.

Three Cheers for Old School!

Go and read this story here. Now you know why there was a shortage of pickpockets in 1957.

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Covenant and the Local Church

A covenant is a contract, an agreement, between two or more parties to fulfill certain obligations towards one another. Christians ought to be familiar with the concept. We know that God's covenant to make Abraham a blessing to all nations, to multiply his offspring, to bring the Messiah through him, and His oath to fulfill this covenant Himself, is reason we have a church at all. There are more promises fulfilled in this covenant than that, but this list is a good start.

Another covenant that Christians ought to be familiar with is the covenant made between a man and a woman in holy matrimony. In this covenant, a man and woman take oaths in the presence of God and gathered witnesses to be faithful to one another until death. In the marriage covenant, the man and woman pledge to be partners through thick and thin as long as life endures.

And finally, I want to draw attention to the covenant between brothers and sisters in Christ made when someone joins a local church. Believe it or not, when you joined a local church, you entered into a covenant agreement with that body much like the one you made when you wed. The obligations are not as intense, but they do exist, and we ought to honor those commitments to the best of our ability. Here is a sample of the typical Baptist Covenant:

Having been led, as we believe, by the Spirit of God, to receive the Lord Jesus Christ as our Savior, and, on the profession of our faith, having been baptized in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, we do now, in the presence of God, angels and this assembly, most solemnly and joyfully enter into covenant with one another as one body in Christ.

We engage, therefore, by the aid of the Holy Spirit, to walk together in Christian love, to strive for the advancement of this Church in knowledge, holiness and comfort; to promote its prosperity and spirituality; to sustain its worship, ordinances, discipline and doctrines; to contribute cheerfully and regularly to the support of the ministry, the expenses of the Church, the relief of the poor, and the spread of the Gospel through all nations.

We also engage to maintain family and secret devotions; to educate our children in the Christian faith; to seek the salvation of our kindred and acquaintances; to walk circumspectly in the world; to be just in our dealings, faithful in our engagements, and exemplary in our deportment, to avoid all tattling, backbiting and excessive anger; to seek God's help in abstaining from all drugs, food, drink, and practices which bring unwarranted harm to the body or jeopardize our own or another's faith.

We further engage to watch over one another in brotherly love; to remember one another in prayer; to aid one another in sickness and distress; to cultivate Christian sympathy in feeling and courtesy in speech; to be slow to take offense, but always ready for reconciliation and mindful of the rules of our Savior to secure it without delay.

We moreover engage that when we remove from this place, we will, if possible, unite with a church where we can carry out the articles of this confession and the spirit of this covenant.

I hope that you actually read that covenant, because if you are a Southern Baptist, odds are that your church has formally adopted something very close to that as your church covenant. Perhaps you had no idea that your church had such a covenant when you joined. That's pretty typical, many Christians have no clue about God's covenant with Abraham and we even have trouble with the marriage covenant by all reports. But our collective ignorance is no excuse for not fulfilling our duty.

I submit that the reason folks ditch the local church the majority of the time is because they simply refuse to live according to their covenant. Joining a church is not taken seriously because covenant obligation is not taken seriously. Most people believe that when they leave one church for another it is because the church has failed them when in reality it is they who have failed the local church.

I suppose that the most common excuse given for a divorce between a man and a woman is "irreconcilable differences." It's a flimsy, and sinful reason to dissolve a marriage union, and it is equally flimsy with regards to leaving a local church in most cases. If the difference is that the church has lost the gospel, that might fly. But like a marital divorce, I'd be willing to say that this is not the typical reason folks leave.

The reason people leave is because they want a place where they can worship freely without the hindrance of others. Meaning: they want to ditch the traditional feel for a more contemporary one. Or, they are sick of dealing with the particular sinners in their current congregation, and they believe that the next congregation will have less sinful people in it. This reasoning is not only faulty, it reflects the "me" mentality of church membership.

Here is what I believe it boils down to when a person chooses a church to join. They rate a successful church by whether or not they are moved during the singing part of worship, if they might lift their hands in praise to no scandal, and if they have an overall encouraging and perhaps even convicting response to the message preached. And while I am not belittling this as legitimate expression of worship, I am urging you to consider that there is more, far more, to personal worship than singing and listening to preaching.

I submit to you that worship that is pleasing to God is not always pleasing to us. At least, not at the time. Consider Abraham in his offering of Isaac. He tied his son to an altar and was about to kill him. His faithfulness in this act pleased God greatly. Was Abraham's act worship or not? Do you suppose he had the same feeling that you want on a typical Sunday morning singing a Chris Tomlin song?

Worship, then, is also doing the things which God calls us to do, and He wants us to do them with a willing heart. So, when the preaching isn't keen, and when sinners are rubbing you wrong, remember that you covenanted before God to work for the betterment of this church. You promised to help others walk in godliness. Remember that the point of "church" is not for you to have a good Sunday morning experience. The church is there for you to do the hard work of walking and helping others walk in sanctification. And the work of sanctification means that some folks in your congregation are not walking by faith and it is your duty to help them, encourage them, and to stick with them until they do so.

Sunday night, I was struck by the words of Ruth to Naomi in the first chapter of that book. Against all hope of prosperity, Ruth swore these words to her mother-in-law:

Entreat me not to leave you,
Or to turn back from following after you;
For wherever you go, I will go;
And wherever you lodge, I will lodge;
Your people shall be my people,
And your God, my God.
Where you die, I will die,
And there will I be buried.
The LORD do so to me, and more also,
If anything but death parts you and me.

As I read those words I thought, "Where is this attitude of loyalty in the local church. Where is the determination to live and die with a people?" Until you die to self, beloved, you will never find joy in your church, and consequently, you will never become a good church member.

Thursday, June 21, 2007

The Importance of Christian Reputation in a Community

One of the most fascinating characteristics listed for a "bishop/overseer" is found in 1 Timothy 3:7 which states, "Moreover, he must have a good testimony among those who are outside, let he fall into reproach and the snare of the devil." Isn't it interesting that a potential pastor should have a good testimony to those outside the faith? How often do pastor search committes check out that qualification?

I point this out to demonstrate that our conduct outside of the church and outside of the fellowship of believers is important. It is vital for a pastor, and it is important for everyone else as well. (You didn't think that everyone else gets a pass on this characteristic, did you?) It is important because those outside the church cannot help but observe us and take note of our behavior. Jesus' words to the disiciples underscore this truth, "By this all will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another" (John 13:35). If the world knows that we love one another, we can safely conclude that they must be watching how we treat one another. That's part of the testimony of the local church.

So what does it say, I wonder, when the SBC funds a church plant one block from an existing SBC church? How tight do we seem to be with one another at that point? It's not as if the outside world cannot see this. Well, maybe they can't. It has become somewhat passe to put the name "Baptist" on any new work. (That's a rant for another time.) Still, the point is that we are supposed to cooperating with one another with the mentality that we are in this thing together. We are not supposed to be competing like Walgreens and CVS.

So why do we do that, then? Quite frankly, it is because we do not think that the smaller, older church is worth the effort to revitalize. They are too old to chew the leather, and so we send them off to the happy hunting grounds. Indeed, we often look forward to the time when the place shuts down because, well, their quaint ways and lack of zeal embarrass us.

If you have any familiarity with SBC speak, then you have probably heard this type of stat ad nauseam, "90% of SBC churches are plateaued or declining!" (I made up the percentage there, I've long since tuned out to such speeches because they all end up the same anyway.) If this is true, which I do not doubt that it is, why don't we have programs geared towards ministers going in to these little churches and working towards reformation? Why is it that the only solution is to put the powder in the Kool-Aid and let them die?

I know that many of these churches do not want to change. I guess. We all know horror stories of pastors going in to little churches and getting their lunch eaten by mean old deacons and spinsters. This is tragic and it happens too often. But I'll bet that sometimes...sometimes we get our lunch eaten because we come in with the attitude that we are Pastor Wyatt Earp come to clean up this little dying one-horse town. Pastor, an attitude that demands respect and authority without putting in the years required to earn it says something about you. God does not call a pastor to save a dying church. He calls a man to pastor it. The Lord saves His church by His gospel for His glory. The point? The point is that sometimes old saints in old churches get treated like unwanted step-children as often as pastors do. They see the new church start across the street too, you know.

If we are supposed to be in this thing together, it seems that we could do a better job of working with what we have. Observe the words of Jesus to the church in Sardis in The Revelation: "Be watchful, and strengthen the things which remain, that are ready to die, for I have not found your works perfect before God" (Rev. 3:2). Strengthen that which remains....strengthen that which remains. I like that. I like that alot. It does not tell us to give up on that which remains and start over. No, the Lord's command is to strengthen the thing that is about to die. No doubt, there is a harsh rebuke here. But the Lord did not give that dying church up, rather, He wished it to be strengthened.

When we give up on a church, we give up on a reputation. If it is a bad reputation, some will be glad to be rid of it. But I say that it is better to have a reputation restored and changed than a witness lost. I think that we ought to have more pastors trained and helped to go into these little, neglected places and work there for revival. I think that if we concentrated on this, the world might see that we actually love each other, and that some things are more valuable than good music and marketing.

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Can These Bones Live?

The hand of the LORD came upon me and brought me out in the Spirit of the LORD, and set me down in the midst of the valley; and it was full of bones. Then He caused me to pass by them all around, and behold, there were very many in the open valley; and indeed they were very dry. And He said to me, “Son of man, can these bones live?”
So I answered, “O Lord GOD, You know.”
Again He said to me, “Prophesy to these bones, and say to them, ‘O dry bones, hear the word of the LORD! Thus says the Lord GOD to these bones: “Surely I will cause breath to enter into you, and you shall live. I will put sinews on you and bring flesh upon you, cover you with skin and put breath in you; and you shall live. Then you shall know that I am the LORD.”’”
So I prophesied as I was commanded; and as I prophesied, there was a noise, and suddenly a rattling; and the bones came together, bone to bone. Indeed, as I looked, the sinews and the flesh came upon them, and the skin covered them over; but there was no breath in them (Ezekiel 37:1-8).

Congregations do not get any deader than the one to which Ezekiel preached. These folks weren't simply apathetic; they were quite dead. They were so dead that they were even past rotten. They were dusty, dry bones. If you think that your church is a spiritual wasteland, imagine the view from Ezekiel's exalted pulpit.

As Ezekiel beheld the desolation that was the House of Israel, the Lord queried him saying, "Can these bones live, Son of Man?" Look at the beauty of Ezekiel's answer: he said, "Oh Lord God, you know." In case you didn't catch it, that's prophetic code for, "I have no idea. You tell me." Ezekiel did not know if these bones could live again, and he definitely didn't know if they would live again. So instead of speculating and pontificating on possibilities, he simply said, "I don't know, Lord, but you do."

Notice what happens next: The Lord commands Ezekiel to prophesy to corpses. He did not bring them to life so that Ezekiel could speak to them. Note this carefully and let it sink into your spirit deeply until it changes how you view God's Word and God's work: God didn't bring the bones to life so they could hear Ezekiel preach; God had Ezekiel preach so He could bring the bones to life.

In what way did the bones cooperate with this grace? What service did they perform? I can see no service that they rendered, nor can I see any trait that they manifested that God should do this great thing. What I see is a faithful man of God, preaching the very words of God to a bunch of dead bones, and as he prophesied, the bones began to come to life. Look at what the text says:

As I prophesied, there was a noise, and suddenly a rattling; and the bones came together, bone to bone. Indeed, as I looked, the sinews and the flesh came upon them (37:7).

Why should it surprise us that the Word of God should work so marvelously amongst the dead? Did God not speak to nothing in the beginning and form worlds? Are we not dust ourselves? Have we forgotten that the gospel is "the power of God"? (Rom. 1:16). Surely this confidence is nearly lost in the evangelical church. A brief survey of modern church tactics will readily demonstrate that targeting age groups, upbeat music, paying attention to demographics, good marketing, and clean nurseries are the means by which churches grow. These things will attract crowds, but they will not rattle dead bones, and they certainly will not build a church.

This past Sunday morning we had a good attendance for Father's Day, and at the end of the service I invited every man there to join me for breakfast at 6:30am at a local restaurant to talk about the sermon, the Bible, spiritual things, or whatever. Not one man showed. I had (and have) high hopes that such a thing might be a productive part of a men's ministry, and I know many of our men could benefit from such spiritual conversation.

I sat alone in a restaurant Monday morning and I read Ezekiel and I thought of my church. I thought of men who attended Sunday morning who need to be in the Word of God. I wondered if the time was bad, or if I needed to simply work harder at relationships so that they may feel comfortable eating breakfast with me. It was an impromptu invitation with little publicity, but that was on purpose. I was trolling for fish to see if I would get a bite. So far, no nibbles.

Can it be that someday I will eat breakfast with a score of men eager to discuss the Word of God? Could it be that someday our church will radiate confidence and joy in the gospel so our church will be a beacon to the lost world? Could it be, O Lord, that these dead bones will awake and find that they are strong in the Lord? It could be that this gospel will yet wake the dead; we won't know until we try. Where there is gospel, there is hope.

Monday, June 18, 2007

The Genius of the Armchair Quarterback in the Local Church

One thing that keeps people from involvement in the local church is how ridiculous and incompetent the current membership of said church is. This type of attitude can be observed on any given Sunday or Monday in your typical armchair quarterback. You probably will not have to overwork your imagination to follow along with my analogy.

I am imagining a guy decked out in team colors, planted in a Lazy Boy recliner. This guy pretends to love his team. After all, he never misses a single down, he knows every player by number, where they played high school ball, how tall they are, and how fast they can run the 40. In fact, this guy knows every championship game, every coach, and every great player that has ever come through the program. Indeed, you are a fan of the same team, but this guy knows way more than you do about your favorite team.

The problem is that you hate to watch games with him. Every play is relentlessly critiqued, and according to this guy, the coach is a blooming idiot. It is no shock to you that this guy believes the coach to be an idiot because that has been his assessment of the past five coaches of the team. Every bad play is greeted with howls of disgust and every good play is met with the ever so encouraging, "It's about time you guys did something right!" This guy knows more than the coach, he knows better than the players, and he fancies himself as the glorious keeper of the winning tradition. "Being the glorious keeper of the winning tradition" means that he properly venerates the greats that have gone before...nevermind that while they were actually there they were often and always the subjects of his tirades.

The irony of all of this is that this guy is 50 lbs. overweight, never played a down of football for any team ever, and has never ever coached anything in his life. This guy can't teach his own dog to sit and come, much less lead men to victory on the grid iron. In short, the man's a blathering fool who esteems himself wise in every aspect of the game. In reality, it is because of guys like him that the program struggles because nothing, not even victory, really satisfies them. Secretly, you wish that somehow, someday he might find himself with pigskin in hand being rushed by a 275 pound linebacker who can do the forty in 4.5.

This description of "armchair quarterback" fits the average church member quite well. They relentlessly critique, but they have never taught a class or led a Bible Study in their life. If they ever tried, it probably died in two weeks because no one could stand it. This type of church member is altogether useless. They cannot be a player because they are too arrogant to follow; they cannot lead because they aren't as awesome as they think they are. The only people with whom they can find an audience are others just like them, and all of their combined griping only succeeds in deflating the very church that they claim to love.

The point of this analogy is that you, dear reader, do not have the luxury of being a "fan" of the local church. You are on the team. You cannot distance yourself from the action. If your church is doing lousy, then you are doing lousy. Your identity is bound up with them, and you don't get to go "free agent" just because they aren't singing your songs and executing your plays. Church is not a spectator sport, even if they do market it that way now days.

My advice and the point of this Monday morning semi-rant is to stay away from this kind of fan. Their rotten attitude is both contagious and discouraging. Also, I advise you to avoid the type of critique that is not constructive and devoid of humility. If you don't, we may let you teach next Sunday.

Friday, June 15, 2007

The SBC's Disregard for the Local Church

I have come away from my first trip to the Southern Baptist Convention with mixed feelings. On the positive side, it was a wonderful time of fellowship with friends. I saw brothers and sisters that I have not seen in years, and it was a joy to be able to spend some time with them. Some of them even chastised me for not posting here more. What an encouragement!

The thing that saddened me about the convention was our inability to pass the resolution offered by Tom Ascol. You can find the content of that resolution here. And if you have not done so already, I highly recommend you head over to Pastor Tom's blog and read his reactions to the annual convention as well. Bro. Ascol's Calvinism is no secret, but even if you are opposed to the Doctrines of Grace, perhaps especially if you are, I urge you to go and read there. What you will find is a brother discussing issues that should cut across the theological divide, and he does it with grace and class at that.

It is not my agenda to be an axe-grinding blogger. My goal is to be encouraging and informative. And so I hope that my critique of the church-planting mentality that prevails in the SBC will be understood positively, for I believe that our Kevorkian Method of church planting is simply another symptom of our utter failure to grasp what a local church is supposed to be about.

Here are some things to consider:

We continually boast that we have 16 million members in the SBC. Then in the same breath, we joke that the FBI cannot find half of them. We should stop laughing at that joke, as Voddie Baucham made clear at the Founder's breakfast. My thought is that if they can not be found by the FBI, then they will not be found in the Lamb's Book of Life. If that's funny to us, then God help us. How is this little joke harmful?

1. 8 million people are living under the damning illusion that they are okay with Jesus because they once joined a church. The fact is that abandoning the fellowship of the local church is one of the first signs of being anti-christ (1 John 2:19).

2. It ruins the reputation of the Church to have half the membership out of fellowship and thereby living in sin.

3. It demonstrates the unwillingness of Southern Baptists to practice Biblical Christianity. Matthew 18 is not a suggestion, but it a necessary aspect of gospel proclamation. There is a reason that church discipline comes right after the parable of the lost sheep.

4. One wonders what the undershepherd will say before the Master on the Great Day when he must give an account for those under his responsibility (Heb. 13:17). This is not just a pastoral responsiblity, but the buck definitely stops there.

If these things are true, then it should be no surprise at our willingness to simply kill or let a local church die. After all, we have already given up on 8 million people who we covenanted with to keep watch over their souls. What's 35 more huddled in confusion in some rural place that nobody cares about anyway?

The more I study the Bible, the more I believe in the local church. I do not believe that it is God's design to win the world to Jesus Christ through evangelists disconnected from the local church, and it is silly to believe that "camp meetings" are a substitute for a healthy church body with regard to evangelism. God's "plan" for spreading the gospel to the ends of the earth is to do it through local churches. I wonder if the SBC, the IMB, and NAMB have come to the place where they have gotten so "endowed" that they have forgotten that. I wonder what would happen if we began to lavish affection on the local body as if it were the Bride of Christ? I think maybe we may see the long hoped for rise in baptisms.

The SBC began as a fellowship of local churches who wished to pool their resources to extend their ability to minister to the world. The annual meeting was meant to encourage that endeavor, and it was run by representatives from those churches. Now, I believe that the tail is wagging the dog, and bureacracy is so entrenched in the machine of the SBC that it will take extreme grace to pry it loose. I believe that the recovery of a love for the local church is just the crowbar for the job. We'll see.

Monday, June 11, 2007

Remember the Alamo!

Dear friends, my wife and I are on a much needed trip to San Antonio. Theorectically, we're supposed to be going to the Southern Baptist Convention. In reality, I want to spend my time on the Riverwalk and at Six Flags. I think that we'll mix it up and do a little of both.

As for the continuing series on the responsibilities of Church membership and Church planting, I will continue that soon. Depends on my down time here in San Antonio. I'll leave you with this thought though since I'm in Alamo City: Why did a handful of volunteers stay in a tiny Church mission against overwhelming odds? My answser: They stayed to fight because they beleived that what they were fighting for was worth dying for. More on this when I return from the tour.

Wednesday, June 06, 2007

Here's Where I'm Coming From

Rebekah's comment on the last post made me pause and reconsider my current course of discussion. I did not originally intend for these "thoughts" to be geared towards pastors. I'm afraid that my own vocation and personal reflections have obscured my original intention. So I'm going to backtrack a bit here about the nature of the Church and the reason we see such an emphasis on church planting. Here's my burden, my fear, if you will: I'm afraid that we are planting churches, not so that we may reach people for Jesus Christ, but so that we will find better places to attend. Thank God this is not always the case, and this is not why many church planters begin, but I'm afraid that the reason so many new church plants swell in growth is because people are sick of "church" for all the wrong reasons.

I must confess to you, not only as a pastor, but simply as a believer, I am often depressed about church. This did not happen to me when I became a pastor, I felt a growing discontent from the time I began to study the Bible in earnest. I found shallow theology, slap-shod sermons, and unthinking Christians to be the norm almost everywhere I turned. This reality consumes me to this day, and if I did not believe in the power of the gospel, I swear, I would go work in computers with my brother-in-law or teach English Literature in a University.

So ask yourself why it is that you have grown cold toward your local fellowship and why it is that you attend church in the first place. Here are a list of reasons why most people get sick of their local fellowship, at least, this is what I've heard:

1. The music stinks. I can't worship to it.
2. The Church is filled with people who just don't care.
3. The preaching is lousy.
4. They don't have anything for my children.

Warning! Rant alert!--->Number one is so maddeningly irrelevant I can't even believe that an otherwise sane believer falls for it. How worship got so singularly entwined with music is a mind-boggling travesty. We see the disciples singing how many times...once? Paul talks about singing in Ephesians, but the pinnacle of worship is not singing tunes that I relate to. Good music is a bonus; no music should not be a hinderance to worship. Go out and buy yourself a CD of your favorite music and sing at home for heaven's sake. <---Rant over.

Worship is not only singing or listening to preaching. Worship is found in service to the body. Your duty is also your joy in Christ. That is, my pinnacle of worship is teaching the Word of God. Yours may be praying for the babies in the nursery. Music cannot steal that joy. Serve your church for the sake of your Master and find your joy there.

I used to have a car that burned oil. I'd have to check it occassionally to add a quart as needed. The problem with the church is that we've got too many dipsticks and not enough people willing to put oil in the engine. That's the ugly truth of number 2. Or, we have folks who do not even realize that it takes volunteers to run a church. They thought they were there to sing and hear good preaching, not come and teach Sunday School, keep extended session, change diapers, help clean stuff up, mow the church lawn or a thousand other things that need doing. Right?

Newsflash for you, Martha. Don't you worry about Mister and Mrs. pew-sitter doing nothing but sitting and listening. You may be losing your joy in the local church because you've gotten your eye off the privilege of service to the King of Kings and started thinking that somebody else ought to be doing something. Who said that the one who wishes to be called great in the kingdom of heaven must be the slave of all? Last I heard, it was bad form for a slave to complain to his master, which is what your fellow church member is, that he or she isn't pulling his weight.

Here's all I will say about lousy preaching. Pray for and love your pastor. Buy him a book. Have him over for lunch and wash his feet...metaphorically or else you'll probably weird him out. If the preaching is still lousy, download John Piper to your iPod and listen to that all week. You'll be okay and you'll honor your pastor as you are commanded to do. When tragedy strikes, that lousy preacher may come over and give comfort from God's own bosom.

#4...nothing for your children? What are you doing for your children? They ought to be in church with you anyway. They learn the passion and importance of worship by watching you do it. I hope my son's earliest memories are of his papa weeping and rejoicing from the pulpit.

I beg you to give me space to preach here for a moment. Let me ask you a question: Have you gotten so spiritually mature that you have an uncanny knack for seeing all the spiritual problems of the church? If you have, then you have been given a great gift. Because if the church has a problem you can identify, you have an obligation to give your life to see it corrected. You must be prepared to sacrifice reputation, ease, and become the object of gossip. But for the sake of the elect of God, help the church become more holy! Didn't you know that when you joined? Did Jesus die for this church? Did Paul endure scorn and ridicule and slander in the churches? Did he say for nothing that the burden of the churches were on his mind day and night for nothing? Do you think he lived like a vagabond and an outcast for a bunch of hypocritical, apathetic, sinful, in-fighting, back-biting wretches? Not only did he do so, he called these miserable folks brothers and sisters, claimed that they were his joy and his crown, and he poured out his life like a drink offering for the sake of their well-being to the glory of God. Do you think that this is just for apostles and preachers? This is the life for every good soldier of Jesus Christ.

Here's the most shocking truth of them might be a big part of the problem at your church. Your attitude and talk may be serving to further division. You may be right about everything you've observed, and there is certainly room for improvement, but your attitude and actions may not be working towards a happy resolution. No, you may be contributing to the divide and encouraging others to abandon the work.

That's part of my concern for our churches. We have these attitudes because we believe membership is optional, flexible, and we are not loving like family. I have been pretty pointed in this. I look forward to your responses.

Monday, June 04, 2007

Euthanizing the Local Church

Dr. Jack Kevorkian is out of prison and back in the news. This is the man who infamously "assisted" people in committing suicide because their lives were no longer worth living. The justification for this macabre practice follows along these lines:

1. The person's quality of life has vanished.
2. The person's usefulness is gone.
3. Death is imminent.
4. Dying is better for this person than living.

The problem with all of these excuses is that it assumes that we are able to make value judgments on the life of an individual. Fortunately, we are not in a position to impose our judgment of "life value" onto any individual, including ourselves. We belong to someone else, and since He stamped every individual with His image and likeness, each person ought to be treated with the dignity of something precious.

Anyone who claims to be a follower of Christ ought to understand the value of human life. Yet, I find that the arguments for "letting a church die" to be eerily parallel to arguments for euthanasia, as if the local church had no intrinsic value. Is it possible that a church planter could become a Kervorkian church planter? I'm not talking about letting a non-gospel believing church go its way; I'm talking about killing a church of "like faith and message," just so we're clear.

Look at a few of the arguments above for euthanasia and then apply them to the rhetoric often used in discussing church planting. One, existing churches that are not "growing" are thought to be expendable. They are virually ignored in church planting strategies and are "allowed to die." That's the thought, but in reality the new plant next door does more than allow an struggling church to die, it helps to end its misery.

But what about the dying church that is set in its tradition and does not want to do outreach and has lost hope? I argue that such a church has tremendous intrinsic value. Brothers and sisters, did Jesus shed His blood for the church or didn't He? It is the blood of the Lord Jesus Christ that makes a church valuable, not growth and evangelism. Therefore, the dying church itself has no business deciding whether or not she should continue on the path to oblivion. What she needs is a shot in the arm and someone who loves the church enough to die for her like Jesus did. To die a thousand deaths by committee, deacon boards, bad music, inbred discipleship and fellowship. And while this pastor is dying a thousand deaths he must cling to gospel and continue to offer its hope to the sick church and to any passers-by in the marketplace and on the highways and byways of life.

Why should he do this? Because the huddled group of twenty elderly, visionless saints have value, and I believe that God can do a miracle in the midst of that group. In fact, I believe that such a group has greater potential for growth than pastor plus zero.

In the next installment I'll begin to walk through what I believe it takes to restore health to a struggling congregation. I'll give you one hint: it has nothing to do with a re-vamped music program.