Much of the ministry to teenagers in America needs an overhaul – not because churches fail to attract significant numbers of young people, but because so much of those efforts are not creating a sustainable faith beyond high school. There are certainly effective youth ministries across the country, but the levels of disengagement among twentysomethings suggest that youth ministry fails too often at discipleship and faith formation. A new standard for viable youth ministry should be – not the number of attenders, the sophistication of the events, or the ‘cool’ factor of the youth group – but whether teens have the commitment, passion and resources to pursue Christ intentionally and whole- heartedly after they leave the youth ministry nest...
Youth ministry is about 150 years old. Arising at first as a way of reaching out to troubled teens especially in highly industrialized urban centers, parachurch ministries like the Young Men’s Christian Association (YMCA) sought to provide safe activities and education in basic reading along with evangelism. Throughout the nineteenth century, parachurch organizations mushroomed. Attempting to create a Protestant Empire that transcended confessional differences, the Bible societies and Sunday School movement increasingly supplanted the ordinary structures, resources, and content of particular church traditions. According to the movement’s leaders, it’s what all evangelicals profess that matters, not what distinguishes Lutherans, Reformed, Baptists, and other denominations. Of course, there had always been catechism instruction for the young and new Christians. Now, however, Sunday school increasingly isolated the younger generations not only from the older but also from the wider confessional tradition to which they belonged. The Sunday school curriculum shared by all Protestant youths, not the catechism, shaped faith and practice. The “youth group” emerged as its own “church-within-a-church,” distinct from the public ministry and worship.
And so it has become increasingly easy for one to go from the nursery to children’s church to youth group and on to college ministry without having actually belonged to the local church. Young people may still drive with their family to the church campus, but from the parking lot they scatter to their own target-marketed groups. For many, the church is more a cafeteria of ministry offerings than a communion of saints. So is it really surprising that a good local church doesn’t figure into things when deciding upon a college and many don’t even join one because, after all, they have their campus ministry? I know of some instances, in fact, of such groups holding their meetings during the regular time of Sunday services.
Saturday, March 31, 2012
The Truth Of The Cross by R.C. Sproul
The Cross-Centered Life by C.J. Mahaney
Outrageous Mercy by William Farley
The Cross He Bore by Frederick Leahy
Council From The Cross by Johnson and Fitzpatrick
I know that God's children are not long without tribulation. As long as the wheat is on the threshin-floor, it must expect to feel the flail. Perhaps you have had a bereavement, or you may have had losses in business, or crosses in your family, or you have been sorely afflicted in your own body, and now you are crying to God for deliverance out of your temporal trouble. That deliverance will surely come. "Trust in the Lord, and do good; so shalt thou dwell in the land, and verily thou shalt be fed." "I have been young," said David, "and now am old; yet have I not seen the righteous forsaken." The Lord will yet light your candle, and surround your path with brightness. Only patiently hope and quietly wait, and you shall yet see the salvation of the Lord. "Many are the afflictions of the righteous." Hark that; you know that part of the verse is true, and so is the rest of it: "but the Lord delivereth him out of them all." Clutch at that, for it is equally true. "In the world ye shall have tribulation." You know that is true. "Be of good cheer," says Christ, "I have overcome the world." Therefore, expect that you also will overcome it through your conquering Lord. Yes, in the darkest of all human sorrows, there is the glad prospect that the day will break, and the shadows will flee away.
Friday, March 30, 2012
With a “gutless orthodoxy,” Christians today quickly affirm biblical truth regarding evangelism and mission, but, author Jeremy Walker reminds us, “we cannot pretend that we know and believe the truth about men, souls, heaven, hell, and salvation unless it is making a difference in the way we think, feel, pray, speak, and act.”"One of the best books on passionate evangelism I know. Should be required reading for every Christian with Jesus-like heart to win others for Christ."
How do Christians develop this sense of urgency to see lost sinners saved?What motivates our evangelism? We must have the character of the brokenhearted evangelist, the David of Psalm 51, who recognizes the greatness of his own sin, looks to God for forgiveness, then recognizes his undeniable obligation to teach transgressors God’s ways. In an engaging style and with pastoral warmth, Walker urges Christians to exercise their obligation and privilege to teach transgressors God’s ways, providing both spiritual truth and practical guidance for carrying out this necessary gospel duty.
- Derek Thomas
“In recent years providence has brought a number of people into my life and ministry who are passionate about evangelism. Some of them are especially keen to win friends, fellow-workers, and family to Christ; others are engaged in various kinds of open-air evangelism, bringing the gospel to people they have never met before. I thank God for all of them and the passion that drives them. This excellent book by Jeremy Walker explains the biblical principles that underlie and provoke such passion, reminding us that time is short, the need is urgent, the laborers are few, and the fields are white unto harvest.”
- John MacArthur
There is a discernable pathology in the theology of the American church. Methodology in ministry is a clear and unambiguous expression of theology. The trend in the past twenty-five years has been to modify ministry to conform to perceived preferences from the culture. This trend has been aided by the corrupt metric of mere numbers as a reflection of effectiveness, “more is better.” Perhaps the most prominent example of this is the declaration in 2008 by Willow Creek and Bill Hybels. His statement—the past twenty-five years of attraction without transformation has not accomplished in the lives of people what Scripture mandates—transformation (“Willow Creek’s Huge Shift,” Christianity Today, May 15, 2008).Read the entire article HERE.
The following data from the Francis Schaeffer Institute provides a stunning summary of the damage that doing ministry based on methodology devoid of applied theology has produced in the American Evangelical church.
God’s marvelous Church has become culturally irrelevant and even distant from its prime purpose of knowing Him, growing in Him, and worshipping Him by making disciples! This is evidenced by what is going on in our culture and in our church. Most of the statistics tell us that nearly 50% of Americans have no church home. In the 1980s, membership in the church had dropped almost 10%; then, in the 1990s, it worsened by another 12% drop—some denominations reporting a 40% drop in their membership. And now, over half way through the first decade of the 21st century, we are seeing the figures drop even more! (Richard J. Krejcir, Statistics and Reasons for Church Decline)
Thursday, March 29, 2012
Trevin Wax: What should the role of the black church be in addressing the social pathologies that continue to plague many black communities?Read the whole interview HERE.
Anthony Bradley: Since slavery, the black church has served as a primary place for moral and social formation in the black community. The black church provided a refuge from suffering and a place to hear the hope of God’s plan to redeem all things because of what was finalized at the cross. We believe that her role is still important as the Scriptures teach us about the cosmic scope of redemption (Rom. 8; Col. 1).If we want black families restored, virtues developed, and so on, that comes through the preaching and teaching of the work and person of Christ and the applications of redemption accomplished on the cross in our communities as God’s people seek first the Kingdom. This is what union with Christ is all about.God intends to use His people, formed by the means of grace in His church, to be His agents of doing His will in the world wherever the curse is found (Matt. 5:13-20). As Reformed theologians, like Abraham Kuyper, remind us, the church is to continue preaching against sin in the lives of individuals and the errors in social institutions that do not reflect God’s intention for human life.
Trevin Wax: How has the prosperity gospel’s message of individual empowerment affected many black churches?
Anthony Bradley: Sadly, the prosperity gospel has taken the already individualistic, consumeristic American understanding of what it means to follow Christ to a new destructive level. This is why we included a chapter on this movement. Its theologically poisonous tentacles have found their way into many black churches, and it is now a major force in the black expression of Christianity in America, Latin America, and Africa.Black pastors who are faithful to the Bible’s theology and faithful to the gospel of Christ are burdened to regularly preach against the prosperity gospel because of its presence in so many black churches as well as its emergence in contemporary gospel music. Prosperity theology is so bad that even black liberation theologians attack it.
Dr. Bradley is the editor of a book well worth reading: Keep Your Head Up.
Wednesday, March 28, 2012
Nancy Guthrie, Hearing Jesus Speak into Your Sorrow (p. 5).
Hear the words of Jesus: “My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death,” (Mark 14:34) and let them draw you closer to him.
Have you always wanted to be closer to Jesus? I know you wouldn’t have chosen this method to get there. We wish we could get closer to Jesus by saying a prayer, going to a Bible study, reading a book, or in some other convenient and controllable way. But the truth is, it’s uniquely through our own sorrow that we can draw close to the Man of Sorrows.
Certainly there are times when God grants astounding numeric growth such as happened in Jerusalem following Pentecost. Indeed, there have been times throughout the history of the church where faithful biblical preaching and practice have overflowed in times of great harvest. But we also know from the ministries of the prophets, the apostles, and Jesus himself that numeric results and popularity are sometimes dismal precisely because of faithfulness. The wise pastor, indeed the wise church prays regularly and passionately for a great harvest of souls but is careful to leave the growth to God.
Brian Croft has written a thoughtful post asking the question, "Should a pastor evaluate his ministry by numbers?
There is an epidemic in the American Church. It is an obsession with basing fruitfulness in ministry on a numbers game. The American way is bigger and better and I am troubled that the church in many ways has bought into this method of evaluation, and continues to do so. I would hope that all pastors want more people to come hear the gospel preached, experience the warm fellowship of our people, be baptized, discipled, and flourish in the church. If you do not desire these things, please do not be a pastor. Yet, in my experience of serving on staff at two different mega churches, closely knowing many other churches, and observing the envy that some small churches possess towards larger churches, there is a great deal focus on numbers as that which deems a ministry fruitful and faithful.
There are several problems with a pastor allowing numbers to be the measuring stick of our ministries, but here is the greatest: It does not appear to be how God evaluates our ministries. According to Hebrews 13:17, God is evaluating our ministries based on our faithfulness to “care for souls as those who will give an account.” Numbers may communicate all kinds of good things about one’s ministry, but whether God is pleased with it based on numbers is a dangerous conclusion to make. Especially if the Chief Shepherd will hold a pastor to account for all those “reached” and brought into the church…but whose souls are neglected.
For pastors who are feeling the pressure of this number’s measuring stick, there is some helpful counsel for you. However, I had to seek it from outside the American Church scene and from a different time altogether. The 19th century Scottish pastor and trainer of pastors, John Brown, wrote a letter to one of his students newly ordained over a small congregation and extended this word to him:
I know the vanity of your heart, and that you will feel mortified that your congregation is very small, in comparison with those of your brethren around you; but assure yourself on the word of an old man, that when you come to give an account of them to the Lord Christ at his judgment seat, you will think you have had enough.
Pastors, regardless the pressures you face in your congregation to “produce the numbers” focus on caring for souls. Be faithful to evangelize, preach the gospel every week, pray for conversions, but make sure your primary focus is on caring for souls. When we stand before God to give an account for the souls of our flock, God will not be impressed with our increased numbers, but how faithful we cared for the souls of those that make up that number.
Monday, March 26, 2012
Saturday, March 24, 2012
In April, 1831, Charles Simeon was 71 years old. He had been the pastor of Trinity Church, Cambridge, England, for 49 years. He was asked one afternoon by his friend, Joseph Gurney, how he had surmounted persecution and outlasted all the great prejudice against him in his 49-year ministry. He said to Gurney, "My dear brother, we must not mind a little suffering for Christ's sake. When I am getting through a hedge, if my head and shoulders are safely through, I can bear the pricking of my legs. Let us rejoice in the remembrance that our holy Head has surmounted all His suffering and triumphed over death. Let us follow Him patiently; we shall soon be partakers of His victory" (H.C.G. Moule, Charles Simeon, London: InterVarsity, 1948, 155f.).Read or listen to the message HERE.
So I have entitled this message, "Brothers, We Must Not Mind a Little Suffering." I have a very definite Biblical aim in choosing this theme and this man for our meditation. I want to encourage you all to obey Romans 12:12: "Be patient in tribulation." I want you to see persecution and opposition and slander and misunderstanding and disappointment and self-recrimination and weakness and danger as the normal portion of faithful pastoral ministry. But I want you to see this in the life of a man who was a sinner like you and me, who was a pastor, and who, year after year, in his trials, "grew downward" in humility and upward in his adoration of Christ, and who did not yield to bitterness or to the temptation to leave his charge – for 54 years.
What I have found – and this is what I want to be true for you as well – is that in my pastoral disappointments and discouragements there is a great power for perseverance in keeping before me the life of a man who surmounted great obstacles in obedience to God's call by the power of God's grace. I need very much this inspiration from another age, because I know that I am, in great measure, a child of my times. And one of the pervasive marks of our times is emotional fragility. I feel it as though it hung in the air we breathe. We are easily hurt. We pout and mope easily. We break easily. Our marriages break easily. Our faith breaks easily. Our happiness breaks easily. And our commitment to the church breaks easily. We are easily disheartened, and it seems we have little capacity for surviving and thriving in the face of criticism and opposition.
A typical emotional response to trouble in the church is to think, "If that's the way they feel about me, then they can find themselves another pastor." We see very few models today whose lives spell out in flesh and blood the rugged words, "Count it all joy, my brothers, when you fall into various trials" (James 1:3). When historians list the character traits of the last third of twentieth century America, commitment, constancy, tenacity, endurance, patience, resolve and perseverance will not be on the list. The list will begin with an all-consuming interest in self-esteem. It will be followed by the subheadings of self-assertiveness, and self-enhancement, and self-realization. And if you think that you are not at all a child of your times just test yourself to see how you respond in the ministry when people reject your ideas.
Friday, March 23, 2012
"Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, nor about your body, what you will put on. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? Look at the birds of the air: they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? And which of you by being anxious can add a single hour to his span of life? And why are you anxious about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin, yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which today is alive and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will he not much more clothe you, O you of little faith? Therefore do not be anxious, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For the Gentiles seek after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them all. But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you. “Therefore do not be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious for itself. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble."- Matthew 6:25-34
Paul Tautges has written a helpful post on the sin of axiety. He points out seven ways that Jesus helps us understand what is truly happening in us when we become anxious.
1. Anxiety often stems from a preoccupation with the temporal and material.Read the entire post HERE.
2. Anxiety fails to recognize God as the faithful Creator and trust Him as the ultimate Provider.
3. Anxiety will not help us live longer.
4. Anxiety is caused by a lack of faith or faith misdirected.
5. Anxiety is a worldly response.
6. Anxiety directs our attention away from kingdom matters.
7. Anxiety robs us of the enjoyment of today’s blessings.
We're often told by gurus of church-growth and guardians of postmodern values in the evangelical community that we mustn't erect "boundaries." I gather from the way such comments are often bandied about that the word boundaries is supposed to have totally negative connotations. Honestly: I don't see why. I can understand how worldly people whose minds are enslaved to earthbound, man-centered, self-indulgent thoughts might wish for a world without any lines or borders. But candidly, it's an attitude that's hard to reconcile with the whole tenor of the New Testament.Listen to the message HERE.
Contemporary evangelicals' resistance to boundaries is especially hard to reconcile with the fact that pastors (the word means shepherds) are expressly charged with guarding the flock and keeping predators out of the fold. And there simply is no realistic way to keep sheep in the sheepfold and wolves out if you refuse to observe any boundaries. In John 10:7, Jesus famously said: "Truly, truly, I say to you, I am the door of the sheep." I cannot envision any useful purpose for having a "door [for] the sheep" if there is no sheep-pen or enclosure of some kind with well-defined, secure barricades, sturdy fences, or a protected perimeter of some kind.
But mainstream evangelicals have been indoctrinated along with the rest of postmodern society to think walls and borders are inherently sinister. We're conditioned to favor a whole different set of more stylish and more politically-correct values: tolerance, openness, diversity, mystery, indecision, broad-mindedness, and liberality. It's considered humble and generous to entertain perpetual qualms about what we believe. We're not supposed to think any single perspective can righteously claim to be true to the exclusion of all others.
So today's evangelicals bend over backward not to sound the least bit dogmatic. Because certainty is perceived throughout our culture as a kind of cruel arrogance. Clarity, authority, careful definitions, and firmness are likewise looked upon with deep suspicion. Stating your beliefs with settled conviction is a sure way to start trouble these days.
Depression should not be wasted. As a teenager I was morose and deeply depressed. I wrote morose things and believed that if the world knew the real me I would be even more lonely than I was. The depressed teen years were followed by the depressed twenties. It went away for quite a while in my thirties, a combination of a great family life and a fresh calling as a pastor.Read the entire post HERE.
I have been pastoring for almost thirty four years and one of the chief temptations of the work is the incessant pressure to give the impression that one is always in control. I may preach against sin, but I am not tempted like other men. That of course is not true and I have no idea how many people knew it. More than I think. Some people I have pastored really did grow to hate me, and that increased the depression. Some really loved me and that increased it too. A series of events beginning in 2003 brought the depression back. I have confessed it to some and gotten horrible responses. When the pastor says he gets depressed people all of a sudden notice things about their shoes that they never noticed before.
Depression makes people run away. That is why it is so easily wasted and so cleverly hidden from great minds and friends who can become very stupid when reacting against what they perceive to be character flaws or sins. Not that depression isn’t accompanied by sin. It can be selfish and self righteous. It focusses on oneself and thinks the world owes it something or doesn’t understand the one who needs so desperately to be understood. It thinks it is loveless and then complains when love is perceived to be absent. It treats as insignificant the love that others show and therefore diminishes them. It sends a message that their love is powerless, that it is not what is needed. It blames others for the state of one’s world. It clings to physical darkness, blinds shut, curtains drawn, but this is only a picture of the state of the soul.
Thursday, March 22, 2012
“Thus the cross story claims us. And we should make no mistake. Unless the cross story does claim us and become our story, we shall not escape the clutches of the glory story. It is not a matter of choice, a matter over which we deliberate. One of the decisive questions in the battle between a theology of glory and theology of the cross will always be the question of the will. A theology of glory always leaves the will in control. It must therefore seek to make its theology attractive to the supposed “free will.” A theology of the cross assumes that the will is bound and must be set free. The cross story does that. Either it claims us or it doesn’t If it does, it is the end of the glory story. We see in the death of Jesus our death, and we remember that we are dust. We can begin to take the truth. We learn dying… We live only on the strength of the fact that the Creator breathed his Spirit into the dust and gave us life. We live on ‘borrowed time’ –time lent us by the Creator.”
- Gerhard Forde from On Being A Theologian Of The Cross (pp. 4 & 9)
1. We are more focused on meeting the material needs of the poor than their spiritual needs. Spend much time in the evangelical community, and you’ll soon learn that the old-fashioned Gospel-focused mission trip is largely a thing of the past. Now, you go build schools. Now, you go dig water wells. Now, you repair houses. These are worthy goals, all, but service projects by themselves don’t change hearts and minds, they often make (frequently) self-inflicted misery more bearable. Service must be accompanied by intentional, vocal evangelism and discipling.
2. We go on sinning so that grace may abound. The secular stereotype of the modern evangelical — as a judgmental moralizer — is so wrong as to be laughable. Everywhere you go, preachers reject this model entirely, emphasizing, for example, “divorce recovery,” therapy, and treatment for the consequences of sin. Again, these are worthy things, but Christ and the Apostle Paul also emphasized holiness and discipline. How often has your church actually disciplined adulterers? How often have you intervened in the life of a friend before they made devastating mistakes? Our desire to be liked trumps all, and suffering is the result.
3. We church-shop, seeking to meet our needs rather than serving the church. This echoes Douthat’s point above. Church-switching is pernicious. Not only does the church “market” breed selfishness, it also makes pastors market-oriented. As you survey church after church, each doing things their own way, ask yourself, which of these church institutions will still be present and viable in 50 years? Or 100 years? Or 1,000? Evangelicals often look askance at Catholics, but which of our churches has even lasted since the Reformation? We cannot build institutions when our focus is on building the self.
I once heard it said that following the social and political disruptions of the 1960s and early 1970s, religious conservatives decided that they had to win elections, while secular leftists decided to win the culture — and both groups succeeded. So now here we are, enjoying unprecedented influence on presidential outcomes even as our cultural foundation rots away beneath our feet. Not even the best presidential candidate will fix the family, nor will our most generous service project save a soul.
"A pastor friend described his temptation to pragmatism. He preached the gospel beginning with the bad news. Like Paul, he spent a significant amount of his time there. Then, after the bad news had prepared his listeners, he joyfully explained the good news. But his church didn't grow. Instead, it began to shrink. Some longtime members complained. Visitors walked out in the middle of his sermons. New people visited, but only a few returned. He told me about a neighboring church that ignored the bad news and steadily grew. He began to question himself. Maybe I am doing something wrong. Maybe my preaching is unbalanced. Have I become a fanatic? Have I gone too far?
"Relatives visited and complained. They associated the word fundamentalist with his name. Maybe I should change the message, he thought. Maybe there is a kinder, gentler way to say it. Hell is a hard teaching. Informing them that they are sinners is probably a little over the top. Maybe I should wait until they are converted to discuss these things. These temptations came, but by God's grace he persevered, convinced that the full counsel of God was powerful and efficacious. Slowly his church turned the corner and began to grow again. Because he conquered the fear of man, today he pastors a thriving congregation. The unity of his church is tighter, their fellowship deeper, and their relationships stronger. Why? His people have been humbled under the gospel. From that foundation the other virtues are now growing."
William Farley from Gospel-Powered Humility
Tuesday, March 20, 2012
Ref21 has posted an article by James Torrens on the self-defeating reality of pragmatism. Torrens writes:
This uncontained pragmatism ('what matters is what works') is used to justify all kinds of strategies in order to 'advance the gospel' or 'build the church', without any thought as to what kind of gospel is being advanced or what kind of church built.
For example, in some circles, the Homogeneous Unit Principle (2) is a popular strategy for church growth. It's popular because it works. It's popular because we all feel more comfortable surrounded by people who look like us, think like us, and behave like us. But is it biblical? Paul's vision of the church in Ephesus and the picture painted for us in Revelation suggests that it is not.
Similarly, particularly in the bigger and 'broader' denominations, it is common to hear people argue that unbiblical beliefs and practices ought to be tolerated, either for the sake of unity or for the opportunities for gospel ministry that being part of such a denomination affords. This is essentially a pragmatic approach to heresy and apostasy. But, as is becoming increasingly clear, one cannot successfully defend the bible by letting the bible slip from one's hands.
To expand, one cannot defend biblical authority if, in seeking to do so, one ignores and thereby undermines the authority of those parts of the bible which give clear instruction as to how to handle, for example, a persistently unrepentant brother. This kind of pragmatism is ultimately self-defeating, for justifying the unbiblical means (by appealing to a positive or 'biblical' outcome) will ensure that the outcome is in fact far from positive or biblical. What eventually happens, to borrow Paul's metaphor, is that the yeast spreads through the whole loaf: the situation worsens, rather than improves.
Dearest Grubnat, my poppet, my pigsnie,
The reports of your progress warm my blackened heart. When you were assigned to one of the Enemy’s ministers ten years ago, his infernal Majesty and I knew you’d have a rough go of it. The zeal of one new to the pastorate can be a daunting challenge to even the most cunning of our comrades, but we also believed that time breeds all wounds and that your task would become easier the longer your patient remained. You now prosper from that sweet spot of pastoral fatigue and assimilation. The shine of newness is gone. And up pop the cracks in the ministerial armor.
There are many temptations common among the Enemy’s undershepherds but one universal temptation of them arises from their flesh and it is this: they want people to
be pleased with them. Wanting to be liked is not a sin, really — to use the Enemy’s terminology — but it can be quickly turned to one at the hands of a spiritual disintegrator as shrewd as yourself. Some tacks you might consider:
Suggest to your client that he works for the people, not the Enemy. This will not be a hard sell as they are faces he sees every day. Remind him who pays his salary. The quicker you can get your patient to see himself as a professional, as an employee, the better.
Strike up with your fellow workers to send in to his office, voicemail, and email inbox parishioner after parishioner with demands, requests, and philosophical banners to wave. Through them propose hill after hill to die on, all save Golgotha.
Keep his head spinning. Even so-called “innocent” concerns can be proper distractions from Who your patient is ultimately beholden to if they offer plausible substitutes for the “first importance” of the Bad News. The slip into people-pleasing mode can be masked as subtly as a serpent slithering in the tall grass (no offense intended to his Majesty).
Help your patient to see all that he lacks. Stroke his discontent. The less satisfied your patient is with what the Enemy has done for him and all the Enemy has given him, the more alluring the validation, approval, and praise of others will be. Empty him of his confidence by highlighting his failures so that therefore his head will be far more easily swelled with adulations and self-confidences. Then pop those like a pin to a balloon and start again. It is easy for a pastor to move to pride—it is his default setting—so this should not be too difficult for you.
Turning your patient into a man-pleaser may require employment of what we have come to call the “rope-a-dope” technique, outlined as follows: First, make things very comfortable in the church for your patient. When he is very much pleased with himself and neither sober nor watchful, but drunk on ease and set to pastoral autopilot, then it is time to strike.
Bring in reinforcements to stoke division and dissension in his flock. Put him on the defensive. Demoralize him. Make him feel as though he has more to prove, more to be. Prod him to strive to enter the unrest. Make arrangements to see that he comes to shepherd under compulsion, not willingly, much less eagerly, and suggest that he view the sheep of his flock as problems to be fixed or resources to be used.
If you can steer him into a position of prideful domineering, that would be most excellent, but the key in all congregational unrest is not just to divorce the people of a church from each other or from their leaders but to divorce the leader from faith in the Enemy. Hype his understanding, if you must, so he will lean on it. Or deconstruct it, if you must, so he will fall back into man-pleasing. Whisper, “Yea to you when all men speak well of you.”
Convince him that difficulty is something strange, undeserved. Convince him that allegiance to himself is a suitable substitute for allegiance to the Enemy. Convince him to seek peace at all costs, especially at the expense of the truth of the Bad News. Your patient is a needy, insecure little man. Ply him with the tenuous, vaporous security of being liked as if it is the end all, be all.
And these are but the rudiments of but one temptation. There is always more to do and much to learn. More to come, if the Enemy delays.
Sunday, March 18, 2012
- David Wells from Perspectives On The World Christian Movement
Saturday, March 17, 2012
You have, doubtless, often anticipated in your own mind the nature of the service to which you are now called, and made it the subject of much consideration and prayer. But a distant view of the ministry is generally very different from what is to be found when we are actually engaged in it. The young soldier, who has never seen an enemy, may form some general notions of what is before him; but his ideas will be much more lively and diversified when he comes on the field of battle. If the Lord was to show us the whole beforehand, who that has a due sense of his own insufficiency and weakness, would venture to engage? But he first draws us by a constraining sense of his love, and by giving us an impression of the worth of souls, and leaves us to acquire a knowledge of what is difficult and disagreeable by a gradual experience. The ministry of the Gospel, like the book which the Apostle John ate, is bitter sweet; but the sweetness is tasted first, the bitterness is usually known afterwards, when we are so far engaged that there is no turning back.
Quoted in The Renewed Pastor, edited by Melvin Tinker
Friday, March 16, 2012
It belongs to the very essence of the type of Christianity propagated by the Reformation that the believer should feel himself continuously unworthy of the grace by which he lives. At the center of this type of Christianity lies the contrast of sin and grace; and about this center everything else revolves. This is in large part the meaning of the emphasis put in this type of Christianity on justification by faith. It is its conviction that there is nothing in us or done by us, at any stage of our earthly development, because of which we are acceptable to God. We must always be accepted for Christ's sake, or we cannot ever be accepted at all. This is not true of us only "when we believe." It is just as true after we have believed. It will continue to be true as long as we live. Our need of Christ does not cease with our believing; nor does the nature of our relation to Him or to God through Him ever alter, no matter what our attainments in Christian graces or our achievements in Christian behavior may be. It is always on His "blood and righteousness" alone that we can rest. There is never anything that we are or have or do that can take His place, or that can take a place along with Him. We are always unworthy, and all that we have or do of good is always of pure grace. Though blessed with every spiritual blessing in the heavenlies in Christ, we are still in ourselves just "miserable sinners": "miserable sinners" saved by grace to be sure, but "miserable sinners" still, deserving in ourselves nothing but everlasting wrath. That is the attitude which the Reformers took, and that is the attitude which the Protestant world has learned from the Reformers to take, toward the relation of believers to Christ.
HT: Carl Trueman
Wednesday, March 14, 2012
"Here is a beautiful YouTube video of the reading of the Nicene Creed which dates back over a 1,000 years in the the Christian church. This recitation was done at Trinity Lutheran Church, Klein, TX during the March 4, 2012 church services by three members of Trinity as part of Lutheran Schools week. These three members, and students (former and present) are: Mr. Erich Klenk, 97 years old, confirmed in 1928, past Chairman of the congregation, charter member of the Men’s Club in 1946, and Trinity’s oldest member. Lyle Lovett, great grandson of Trinity founding father Adam Klein, confirmed in 1971, singer/songwriter, and winner of four Grammys. Erin Pali, class of 2016 and current 4th grade student of Miss Marilyn Peterson/ Erin’s Dad Brett also had Miss Petersen in 4th grade during his years at Trinity."
We pastors are being killed by the professionalizing of the pastoral ministry. The mentality of the professional is not the mentality of the prophet. It is not the mentality of the slave of Christ. Professionalism has nothing to do with the essence and heart of the Christian ministry. The more professional we long to be the more spiritual death we will leave in our wake.John Piper from Brothers We Are Not Professionals (p. 1)
It’s terrific to see so many younger Christians excited about being “God-centered.” However, Islam and Orthodox Judaism claim to be “Godcentered,” too. The Christian faith is distinguished by its claim that God is the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, and we know this from Scripture, preeminently in the Son’s entrance into a fallen world in our own flesh. We dare not approach “God” in His blinding majesty apart from Christ our Mediator. Apart from Christ, the Father is our Judge, and His glory is the worst thing we could ever encounter. That’s not because the Father is less loving than the Son, but because we are sinners. And we can say our “amen” to the Son only because of the Spirit who indwells us.Read the whole article HERE.
A Trinitarian understanding of the gospel clears up a lot of popular misunderstandings. For example, it challenges presentations of the gospel that make it sound as if a wrathful Father took out His anger toward us on His passive Son. On the contrary, the Father “so loved the world, that he gave his only Son” (John 3:16). It was the Father who chose us in Christ before the foundation of the world (Eph. 1:4). And as for the Son, He was hardly a passive victim; He gave Himself up for His people. Jesus, “for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God” (Heb. 12:2; see Isa. 53). He was a willing sacrifice: “No one takes [my life] from me,” He said. “I have authority to lay it down, and I have authority to take it up again” (John 4:34; 10:11, 18; see also Matt. 16:23; Luke 9:51; Heb 10:5–10). He went to the cross knowing that His suffering would lead to glory not only for Him but for His people. In spite of His grief, He determined, “Shall I not drink the cup that the Father has given me?” (John 18:11). The cross itself was far from a joy, but He endured it for the joy that lay beyond it. He had embraced the cross in eternity.
Wherever God’s sovereignty in predestination is strongly defended apart from such a covenantal framework, the concrete revelation of our election in Christ according to the gospel’s promise is often surrendered to theoretical debates and endless speculation on God’s hidden counsels. It is dangerous to talk about the glory and sovereignty of God unless the God we have in mind is the Trinity, to whom we have access only in the Son as He is revealed in the gospel.
The Beauty of Conversion by Jared Wilson
To many, the Christian doctrine of conversion appears anything but beautiful. They say it’s coercive—“No one will force their beliefs on me!” Or it’s offensive—“Who are you to say that what I believe and how I live is wrong?”
His Arm Is Strong to Save: A Trajectory of Conversion in America by Owen Strachan
Historical changes in America’s doctrine of conversion show up in all sorts of interesting places.
Conversion and the Story of Israel by Thomas R. Schreiner
The New Testament doctrine of conversion doesn’t come out of nowhere. It’s anticipated in the Old Testament story of Israel.
Conversion in the New Testament by Thomas R. Schreiner
The promise of redemption becomes a reality in the New Testament—a reality that includes a new covenant, a new exodus, new hearts, and a new creation.
Conversion, God, and the Whole Self by Stephen J. Wellum
Conversion is absolutely necessary for salvation. Why? Because of what our problem is, who God is, and what the gospel demands.
The Corporate Component of Conversion by Jonathan Leeman
Does your doctrine of conversion include the body of Christ? If not, it may be time to rethink it.
Book Review: Revival and Revivalism
The Underestimated Pastoral Power of a Proper Doctrine of Conversion by Jonathan Leeman
Conversion unleashes the power of a new creation life, which is the power our people need.
Conversion and Your Church’s Architecture by Jeramie Rinne
Here’s what one pastor learned through a blocked building project about the link between doctrine and practice.
How “Belonging before Believing” Redefines the Church by Michael Lawrence
“Belonging before believing” is an attractive and seemingly effective idea, yet it fundamentally redefines the church. This article offers a better, more biblical way.
Concepts of Conversion in the Inner City by Shai Linne
From the Nation of Islam to mainline churches to the beginnings of a theological rebirth, this article canvasses concepts of conversion in the inner cities of America.
Testimonies of the Underestimated Gospel
9Marks asked all the T4G plenary and break-out speakers and panelists to provide us with a one sentence answer to this question: What were the human means and instruments of your conversion?
Six Ways to Give Your People False Assurance by Michael McKinley
Many people in our churches have a firm but unfounded belief that they are genuinely converted. Here are six ways pastors contribute to that problem.
Book Review: Finally Alive
Tuesday, March 13, 2012
That voice in your head that keeps rehearsing the disappointments and flaws of your church is not from the Lord. It is the accuser, helping you get to the “I have no need of you” forbidden in 1 Corinthians 12:21. We may have legitimate concerns about our church’s maturity, its repentance, its effectiveness, or its “personality,” and there is certainly a place for sharing concerns and criticisms, a biblical call to honest appraisal, and plenty of space for exhortation and rebuke, but many claiming to do these things have shifted to a legal measuring none of us really has the authority for...Read the whole post HERE.
In 1 Peter 5:2, Peter exhorts pastors to shepherd the flock that is among them. I think we could apply this fairly reasonably to non-pastors as well. Love the church that is actually “among you,” not the one you wish was there. God in his wisdom has not placed you there to be a busybody or malcontent. Ask yourself these questions:
1. Am I disappointed my church isn’t more like Jesus, or that it isn’t more like me? In the diversity of the body is a diversity of callings and passions. It is not fair, nor gracious, to expect the other members of a body to carry the same individual callings or passions as others. If the problem is disobedience to a clear biblical command, that is one thing. If the problem is disinterest in your interest, that is
2. Is the problem a matter for church discipline? Is it an issue of gospel-denial? Rebukes are for sin, not for disappointment. If your church affirms the gospel but denies emphasis on your area of concern, don’t make a federal case out of it.
3. Can you rehearse the blessings and benefits of your local body as easily as their flaws and failings? If you are constantly unhappy there and cannot shake envy for the wish-dream, it is better for you to leave in peace than to stay and grumble.
4. Do you see others’ faults more readily than your own? The answer to this question, for nearly all of us, is yes. So it is with great caution and great desire for grace that we ought to make the faults of others our business. Your church has a long, long way to go, no doubt. Every church does. But so do you.
Let’s not be our church’s accuser. Someone has already taken that position. And let’s not keep constantly taking our church’s temperature. Let’s love and serve and submit and, yes, exhort and rebuke, and then let’s love and serve and submit more and more, believing that the Spirit is at work many times in ways we are blind to. God will be faithful to finish the good work he’s begun in us, and he doesn’t need you walking around with your hall monitor sash, handing out demerits.
Thursday, March 8, 2012
John Piper offers good counsel for the pastor experiencing the "lean seasons."
Sometimes It Rains
We always think of Billy Graham’s crusades as full and successful. It was not always the case. The London Evening Standard recounted “a rain-soaked service on Streatham Common where Graham’s music director, Cliff Barrows, had to give up trying to play his trombone, and heavier members of the platform party had to move to the center as the stage sank in the mud” (Alister Chapman, Holy Ambition, 48).
If you live long enough, and serve faithfully enough, you will have rain-soaked seasons, and feel yourself sinking in the mud. But Graham survived. And look what God wrought.
There Are Hard Years
People look at Bethlehem’s growth over the last 30 years and think it is a success story. But things are more complex than that. And all growth is ambiguous. Numbers don’t equal faithfulness.
What is so easily forgotten are the lean seasons. For example, in 1993 our average Sunday morning attendance was 1,064. Then came the crisis when two of our staff were removed for moral reasons. The shadow this cast was long and painful. In 1994 our attendance fell to 943. In 1995 to 906. In 1996 we struggled to 941. And only in 1997 did we reach our former high. Attendance reached 1,102. No growth for three years. People wondered if the dream was over.
There were joys. And there were blessings. But in many ways the three years from the end of 1993 to the end of 1996 were heavy and sorrowful. They were the Lord’s chastening.
Then the darkness was lifted, and from 1997 to 2001 our attendance doubled.
The point of these two stories is this: Lean seasons come. And if you keep your hand on the plow and pray with patience, the merciful God will bring a new day.
By the 1820s and 1830s, two major shifts had occurred throughout American evangelicalism.
The first is a doctrinal shift regarding conversion. Up to 1800, evangelicals almost universally believed and preached that God must sovereignly give someone a new nature to enable him or her to repent and believe. By the 1830s, this was widely replaced by an understanding of conversion in which the decision to repent and believe lay entirely within an individual’s own power.
This led to (or, in some cases, followed) a shift in evangelistic practice. Many evangelicals adopted practices that sought to bring about an immediate decision. The “anxious bench,” the altar call, singling people out personally in public prayer, warning hearers to respond immediately or else lose their chance to repent—all these practices and more grew out of the new belief that conversion is something within a person’s power to achieve, or even to effect in others.
The Result: Revivalism
The result of these two shifts is that church leaders began to regard revival as something that could be infallibly secured through the use of proper means—“proper” being whatever would induce an immediate decision or external token of decision. This understanding was most vigorously promoted by Charles Finney, but by the end of the Second Great Awakening it had become a given among a strong majority of American evangelicals. Historian William McLoughlin even went so far as to say that by the mid-nineteenth century, this new system was the national religion of the United States (277).
Thus, revivalism was born. To be sure, revivalism grew up in the soil of genuine revival. But this new practice of revivalism radically differed from the previous understanding of revival it so quickly supplanted. A “revival” became synonymous with a meeting designed to promote revival. Unlike previous generations, evangelicals after 1830 gained the ability, so to speak, to put a revival on the calendar months in advance.
The goal of such revivals was to secure as many immediate decisions for Christ as possible. As such, awareness of the possibility of false conversion seemed to simply vanish from the evangelical consciousness. Few asked whether their new measures just might create as many false converts as true disciples.
Wednesday, March 7, 2012
When prayers become the equivalent of "Yo, how you doin'?!" then something has gone awry. Public prayers should lead people into the presence of God, and that should be a humbling, if not crushing experience. When was the last time a pulpit prayer left you in awe of the God who humbles himself so that you might worship him? What about sermons? How many of us sit in judgment on the sermon, grading it for quality, length, clarity, interest, as the minister brings to us the Word of God? If we have any grasp of God's holiness, and any inkling of the importance of the prophetic task of preaching, we won't be giving the minister a grade; rather, we will be sitting and listening to what he has to say, acutely conscious of our own unworthiness to hear God as he speaks to us. Then, when the songs we sing can be summarized by the phrase, "Jesus is my best boyfriend," we can be sure that something is seriously out of joint. The words we sing to God should reflect the gravity of the words of God first speaks to us. Then, when the church itself becomes a take-it-or-leave-it venture that we can turn up for a time that suits us, perhaps even sipping lattes from Starbucks as we take our seats, something is seriously missing. What is it? Well, the answer isn't rocket science: a sense of the deep holiness of God. The casual nature of the postmodern world, where all hierarchies are oppressive and the consumer is king, cannot even begin to understand the void that lies at the heart of such slapdash Christianity. Your doctrine can be as correct and confessional as possible; but if it is all just so much of a game, then it is no theology at all.
Jason Helopoulos has written two helpful posts on the subject of inviting children into our corporate worship services. In the first post he offers six reasons why this is a good thing:
1. Our children are members of the covenant community (the church): Corporate Worship on Sunday morning is the primary activity the covenant community engages in together (Acts 2:42; Ephesians 10:24-25). Therefore, our children as members of this community should be included in this crucial aspect of covenantal life.
2. Our children will be present in the midst of the means of grace: Our children benefit by being where the Word is preached (Romans 10:14), the sacraments are administered (Matthew 28:19-20), and corporate prayer is practiced (Acts 2:42-47). These are the chief means by which God pours out grace upon His people. Why knowingly rob our children of this blessing?!
3. Our children will be present in the midst of the entire congregation: Our children benefit greatly by being in the presence of Christians of various ages. They are able to see that the faith of their parents is not a faith that they own alone, but is a faith that is important to all of these people who are gathered around them on Sunday morning. This only reinforces what Mom and Dad are modeling and teaching when they see this incredible gathering of people reading the Word together, praying together, confessing together, and singing together (Deuteronomy 31:9-13). They need to see the body in action.
4. Our children will be present with their parents: Worshipping together as a family helps to counter the current trend in our society of fragmenting our families. If our children join us in worship from four years of age until they are eighteen they will worship with their parents in 780 Sunday morning worship services! Think about the cumulative effect of a family worshipping together, in the midst of the means of grace, meeting with God for 780 Sundays in a row.
5. Our children will witness their parents worshipping: It is the Biblical role of parents to disciple their children in the faith (Deut. 6; Psalm 78; Eph. 6). What a benefit there is when children witnesses their mother or father singing with conviction, praying in reverence, listening intently to the sermon, or receiving the Lord’s Supper in joy. In these moments a child witnesses the importance of faith and worship. There are few greater encouragements to a child’s faith then seeing their parents worship God with reverence and joy. (Exodus 12:1-28; Deut. 4:9-11; Deut. 6; Psalm 78; Ezra 10:1; Nehemiah 12:43; Joel 2:12-17; Acts 16:33).
6. Our children will learn the rhythms of church life: Teenagers in our culture often balk at attending corporate worship. But how many of our teenagers have we setup for this reaction, because we did not consistently include them in worship until they were a teenager? If attending church for years has always meant coloring Bible pictures, singing songs to a cd, playing games, and doing crafts—then we should not be surprised that our young people find worship to be odd, uncomfortable, and even boring. I love good children’s songs—they ring through my house. I love good children’s Christian crafts—they decorate my study. But if this alone is the rhythm of church life we have set up for our children week in and week out, we have done them a great disservice. They must see, know, and learn that the singing of the great hymns of the faith, the preaching of the Word, reading of confessions, corporate prayers, etc. is anything but boring. It is the gathered life of the community of faith. It is our weekly rhythm—appointed by God, designed by Him, established for the ages—this is what we want them to know, because we want them to know and worship Him.
Read the whole article HERE.
The second post is entitled "Children in Worship: Mom Tested Tips"