Friday, January 29, 2016

22 Mistakes Pastors Make in Practicing Church Discipline

Church discipline is often ugly and difficult.  In my own ministry, it has been about a positive and fruitful experience about 50% of the time.  I have not always done it well and I find it very difficult to do in our culture.  Here is a great post from Andy Naselli

Pastors sometimes make the following mistakes regarding formal church discipline.
  1. They fail to teach their congregation what church discipline is and why they should practice it.
  2. They fail to practice meaningful membership, which includes (1) teaching people what membership entails before they join; (2) encouraging casual attenders to join; (3) carefully interviewing everyone who wants to join; (4) giving regular oversight to all the flock; and (5) maintaining an up-to-date membership list that accurately reflects who is present at the weekly gathering.
  3. They fail to teach their congregation about biblical conversion, especially the need for repentance.
  4. They fail to teach new members as they enter the church about the possibility of church discipline, and that preemptive resignations don’t work.
  5. They fail to ensure that the church’s public documents (bylaws, constitution, articles of incorporation, etc.) address the procedures of church discipline, thereby exposing the church to legal risk.
  6. They fail to follow the steps of Matthew 18 or 1 Corinthians 5, depending on the circumstance. In a Matthew 18 situation, for instance, they fail to begin the process by confronting sin privately.
  7. They misjudge how quickly to move toward formal discipline, either by dragging their feet or by rushing into judgment.
  8. They fail to adequately teach and explain to a congregation why a particular act of discipline is necessary.
  9. They tell the congregation too many details about a particular sin for which they are recommending discipline, embarrassing family members and causing weaker sheep to stumble.
  10. They treat the processes of church discipline entirely as a legal process with little consideration for shepherding the unrepentant individual’s heart.
  11. They give little attention to the differences between kinds of sinners and how that might affect how long a church should bear with a pattern of sin before proceeding to subsequent stages of discipline (see 1 Thess. 5:14).
  12. They forget that they too live by the gospel’s provision of mercy, and therefore prosecute the discipline from a posture of self-righteousness. Other mistakes follow from this wrong posture, such as an overly severe tone and standoffishness.
  13. They fail to truly love the sinner . . . by not begging the Lord for his or her repentance.
  14. They demand too much from a smoldering wick or bruised reed. In other words, their stipulations for repentance are too high for someone who has been deeply enslaved in sin’s grip.
  15. They fail to properly instruct the congregation on how to interact with the unrepentant sinner, such as how to relate to him or her in social situations and how to pursue his or her repentance.
  16. They fail to invite the disciplined individual to continue attending services of the church so that he or she might continue to hear God’s Word (assuming there is no threat of criminal harm). Also, they fail to inform the church that everyone should hope for the disciplined individual to continue attending.
  17. They put the responsibility for leading the discipline process entirely on the shoulders of one man, the senior pastor, thereby tempting individuals in the church to accuse the senior pastor of being personally vindictive.
  18. They fail to have sufficient elder involvement in the congregation’s life, such that the elders are unaware of the state of the sheep. This failure of formative discipline will inevitably weaken the church’s ability to do corrective discipline well.
  19. They fail to teach God’s Word on a weekly basis.
  20. They allow the congregation to approach a case of discipline with a wrongful spirit of retribution, rather than with the loving desire to warn the unrepentant sinner about God’s ultimate retribution to come.
  21. They pursue discipline on nonbiblical grounds (playing cards, dancing, etc.).
  22. They pursue discipline for any reason other than for the good of the individual, the good of the church, the good of the onlooking community, and the glory of Christ.

Wednesday, January 27, 2016

Toolbox for Skillful Shepherding

Great insights from a post by Andy Naselli on church discipline.
Andrew M. Davis, “The Practical Issues of Church Discipline,” in Those Who Must Give an Account: A Study of Church Membership and Church Discipline, ed. John S. Hammett and Benjamin L. Merkle (Nashville: Broadman & Holman, 2012), 172:

Monday, January 25, 2016

Be More Specific Than “Points” or “Things”

Great post by Andrew Naselli on preaching.  I have not heard of the book he quotes but will add it to my list of preaching books to read!

Speakers and writers often say something like this: “My sermon has three points” or “I’d like to share four things.”
This book taught me not to do that:

Wayne McDill. 12 Essential Skills for Great Preaching. 2nd ed. Nashville: Broadman & Holman, 2006.
I took my first homiletics courses in college in the 1999–2000 school year, and the first edition of this book was one of my main textbooks.
That book has served me well over the last fifteen years. It taught me to use language precisely.
Below is one example that has stuck with me. McDill is giving advice about how to craft sermon divisions, but his advice applies to far more than just preaching. It applies to writing and to communication in general:
There are almost an unlimited number of terms you can use as key words [in sermon division statements]. Note that Appendix D provides a comprehensive list of possible key words. But some words should not be used.
      1. Do not use things as a key word. It is too broad and nebulous to be useful.
      2. Neither should you use points as a key word for the same reason.
Remember, the key word is simply a device to identify the nature of your sermon divisions as they emerge from the writer’s treatment of his subject. (pp. 111–12, numbering and formatting added)
So instead of saying that the apostle Paul “makes three points,” say, “gives three reasons” or “shows three ways” or whatever. The craft of communicating with speech and writing requires words, so if that’s your craft, you’ll want to develop your ability to use words well.
McDill lists 265 words that communicate more clearly that the ambiguous words “points” and “things” (“Appendix D: Sample Key Words,” pp. 295–96, numbering added):
  1. abuses
  2. accusations
  3. acts
  4. actions
  5. actualities
  6. admonitions
  7. advantages
  8. affairs
  9. affirmations
  10. agreements
  11. aims
  12. alternatives
  13. assertions
  14. angles
  15. answers
  16. applications
  17. approaches
  18. areas
  19. arguments
  20. articles
  21. attitudes
  22. attributes
  23. aspects
  24. aspirations
  25. assertions
  26. assumptions
  27. assurances
  28. attainments
  29. attitudes
  30. attributes
  31. barriers
  32. beginnings
  33. beliefs
  34. benefits
  35. burdens
  36. calls
  37. causes
  38. certainties
  39. challenges
  40. changes
  41. charges
  42. claims
  43. clues
  44. commands
  45. commitments
  46. comparisons
  47. compensations
  48. compromises
  49. compulsions
  50. conceptions
  51. concessions
  52. conclusions
  53. conditions
  54. consequences
  55. contrasts
  56. corrections
  57. credentials
  58. criteria
  59. criticisms
  60. customs
  61. dangers
  62. decisions
  63. declarations
  64. defenses
  65. deficiencies
  66. definitions
  67. degrees
  68. demands
  69. denials
  70. destinies
  71. details
  72. devices
  73. differences
  74. distinctions
  75. directions
  76. directives
  77. disciplines
  78. disclosures
  79. discoveries
  80. distinctions
  81. doctrines
  82. duties
  83. elements
  84. encouragements
  85. essentials
  86. estimates
  87. events
  88. evidences
  89. evils
  90. examples
  91. exchanges
  92. exclamations
  93. exhortations
  94. expectations
  95. experiences
  96. expressions
  97. facets
  98. factors
  99. facts
  100. failures
  101. faults
  102. favors
  103. fears
  104. features
  105. finalities
  106. forces
  107. functions
  108. fundamentals
  109. gains
  110. generalizations
  111. gifts
  112. goals
  113. graces
  114. groups
  115. guarantees
  116. habits
  117. handicaps
  118. hindrances
  119. hopes
  120. hungers
  121. ideals
  122. ideas
  123. illustrations
  124. imperatives
  125. implications
  126. impressions
  127. improvements
  128. impulses
  129. incentives
  130. incidents
  131. indictments
  132. inferences
  133. injunctions
  134. insights
  135. inspirations
  136. instances
  137. instruction
  138. instruments
  139. intimations
  140. invitations
  141. issues
  142. items
  143. joys
  144. judgments
  145. justifications
  146. keys
  147. kinds
  148. laws
  149. lessons
  150. levels
  151. liabilities
  152. limits
  153. lists
  154. losses
  155. loyalties
  156. manifestations
  157. marks
  158. means
  159. measures
  160. methods
  161. mistakes
  162. moments
  163. motives
  164. movements
  165. mysteries
  166. names
  167. necessities
  168. needs
  169. notions
  170. objections
  171. objectives
  172. observations
  173. obstacles
  174. occasions
  175. offers
  176. omissions
  177. opinions
  178. opportunities
  179. paradoxes
  180. particulars
  181. parts
  182. peculiarities
  183. penalties
  184. perils
  185. periods
  186. phases
  187. phrases
  188. pledges
  189. points
  190. possibilities
  191. practices
  192. premises
  193. prerogatives
  194. principles
  195. priorities
  196. probabilities
  197. problems
  198. processes
  199. promises
  200. promptings
  201. pronouncements
  202. proofs
  203. prophecies
  204. propositions
  205. provisions
  206. qualifications
  207. qualities
  208. questions
  209. realities
  210. realizations
  211. reasons
  212. reflections
  213. refusals
  214. remarks
  215. remedies
  216. reminders
  217. requirements
  218. reservations
  219. resources
  220. responses
  221. restraints
  222. results
  223. revelations
  224. rewards
  225. risks
  226. routes
  227. rules
  228. safeguards
  229. satisfactions
  230. secrets
  231. sins
  232. sources
  233. specifications
  234. statements
  235. steps
  236. stipulations
  237. successes
  238. suggestions
  239. superlatives
  240. suppositions
  241. surprises
  242. symptoms
  243. teachings
  244. tendencies
  245. testimonies
  246. tests
  247. thoughts
  248. threats
  249. topics
  250. totalities
  251. truths
  252. undertakings
  253. urges
  254. uses
  255. values
  257. violations
  258. virtues
  259. voices
  260. warnings
  261. ways
  262. weaknesses
  263. wishes
  264. words
  265. wrongs

Friday, January 22, 2016

3 Keys to Listening During Sermons

Here is a great and simple article on listening to sermons by Dave Jenkins at Gospel Centered Discipleship.
Going to church each Sunday and sitting under godly, loving, biblical, and practical preaching week in and week out should be enjoyed as a privilege by God’s people. While some people, like myself, learn best by sitting and listening, I know many people get more out of sermons by taking notes. When I’m listening to a sermon I try to always do the following three things:
1. Open my Bible and follow along as the pastor preaches the Word.
2. Listen for key ideas/points.
3. Learn to interpret the biblical text from your pastor.


First, open your Bible and follow along as the pastor teaches the Word. Whether you have a Bible app on your phone, or you have a physical copy of God’s Word, always be sure to have your Bible open so you can follow along as the pastor is preaching. Paul commended the Bereans (Acts 17:11) because they checked to see if what he was saying was biblical and the Thessalonians for how they received the Word of God (1 Thess. 2:13).
As Christians, we  should be known for our love for God. A real love for God will produce a love for his Word, his people, and his Church.We are living in a time when biblical illiteracy is on the rise. By opening your Bible during the week on your own, at Bible study, and on Sunday at your local church, you can grow in your knowledge, understanding, and application of God’s Word. This is why opening your Bible and following along as your pastor preaches the Word is so important—it will help you see what your pastor sees in the text, which will help you to learn how to read the Bible well on your own.


Second, listen for key ideas/points. Some pastors provide an outline for you to follow during the sermon. I encourage you to follow along with the outline and fill it in as the pastor preaches. This outline is a key tool to help you take notes. Typically, my pastor has his main points in the outline with words the congregation should fill in. He also has a few applications points for how we can apply the message to our lives. If you are like me, you might also occasionally write further thoughts and sometimes these thoughts have even become future articles.
While you’re listening to the sermon look for key ideas. These may be points the pastor brings out in his sermons, but it also may be a thought brought to mind by the Holy Spirit. These are important insights to write down because while they may be for that moment, they may also be for later in the week, or further down the road to encourage you or others.  As a Bible teacher, sometimes I’ll repeat something a few times to help the listener understand how a particular point is critical to the whole message. The essential point here is to pay attention throughout the sermon to the key ideas that are meaningful. Those may be the ones the pastor mentions, but they also may be something else that is helpful to you. Pay attention, take notes, and write down key ideas/thoughts as they come to you during the course of the sermon.


Third, learn to interpret the biblical text from your pastor. In the Bible study I lead at church, we’re going through the Gospel of John. I’ve told the men that come that one of the objectives I have for this study is to help them learn how to read and interpret the biblical text. One of the main objectives for faithful verse by verse preaching is that week after week and year after year, people get to see how the pastor reads, understands, and interprets the biblical text. This is one of the primary reasons why verse-by-verse expository preaching is so important. People today simply don’t know how to read and interpret the text.
In my experience, when people read a biblical text they first read themselvesinto the text rather than allowing the text to simply say what it means. This results in people wrongly handling the Word of God. As Christians, we should be known for handling the Word of God well (2 Tim. 2:15). The faithful pastor preaches the biblical text with a view to helping people to see how they got the points they did from the text under consideration. In other words, the faithful pastor exegetes the biblical text in order to help the people of God see what the text teaches, by drawing it out in helpful ways so people can learn to interpret the biblical text themselves.


Maybe you’ve never considered listening intentionally to a sermon or note taking. I am always actively listening for key ideas in the message—even if I’m not taking notes. In every sermon, there will be points that you’ll find more helpful than others. I encourage you to listen well and take notes if necessary, whether that’s on an outline provided, a notebook you bring, or just mentally. As you do so you’ll find that you will remember more of the sermon you hear.
Listening well and taking good notes during the sermon is a means to an end. That end is our growth in Christ and understanding of the Bible. You leave church each week sent out on a mission by God to make disciples of the nations for the glory of God. Listening well to what is being taught to you with an open Bible, listening and jotting down key ideas, and watching how your pastor interprets the Bible will help you to grow in your knowledge and application of the Bible, which will in turn help you to grow in the grace of God.
This week pick up your Bible, read it, study it, and apply it to your life. The end result of this is that any duplicity in your life will be replaced by a growing hunger for more of Jesus. At the end of the day, that’s the goal to not only listening to a sermon well, but a  Christian who is taking her own growth in Christ seriously.
Dave Jenkins is the Executive Director of Servants of Grace Ministries, and the Executive Editor of Theology for Life Magazine. He and his wife, Sarah, are members of Ustick Baptist Church in Boise, Idaho, where they serve in a variety of ministries. Dave received his MAR and M.Div. through Liberty Baptist Theological Seminary. You can follow him on twitter @DaveJJenkins. Find him on Facebook or read more of his work at

Wednesday, January 20, 2016

Seven Things Church Members Should Say to Guests in a Worship Service

Great suggestions from Thom Rainer
. . .
One of the more common questions I’m asked relates to growth barriers. For example, church leaders may want to know how to move past the 150-attendance level of the past five years. Or other leaders desire to know how to break though financial giving barriers.
Those questions are tough because they often presume a brief response to be adequate. In reality, there are many theological and methodological issues at work in growth barriers. Today, I am looking at a very basic barrier: lack of friendliness to church guests.
In a previous blog post, I noted things we should not say to a guest in our worship services. In today’s post I look at the positive perspective: seven things we should say to guests.
  1. “Thank you for being here.” It’s just that basic. I have heard from numerous church guests who returned because they were simply told “thank you.”
  2. “Let me help you with that.” If you see someone struggling with umbrellas, young children, diaper bags, purses, and other items, a gesture to hold something for them is a huge positive. Of course, this comment is appropriate for member to member as well.
  3. “Please take my seat.” I actually heard that comment twice in a church where I was speaking in the Nashville area. The first comment came from a member to a young family of five who were trying to find a place to sit together.
  4. “Here is my email address. Please let me know if I can help in any way.” Of course, this comment must be used with discretion, but it can be a hugely positive message to a guest.
  5. “Can I show you where you need to go?” Even in smaller churches, guests will not know where to find the nursery, restrooms, and small group meeting areas. You can usually tell when a guest does not know where he or she is to go.
  6. “Let me introduce you to ___________.” The return rate of guests is always higher if they meet other people. A church member may have the opportunity to introduce the guest to the pastor, other church staff, and other members of the church.
  7. “Would you join us for lunch?” I saved this question for last for two reasons. First, the situation must obviously be appropriate before you offer the invitation. Second, I have seen this approach have the highest guest return rate of any one factor. What if your church members sought to invite different guests 6 to 12 times a year? The burden would not be great; but the impact would be huge.
Let’s look at one example of breaking attendance barriers by saying the right things to guests. Presume your church has two first-time guests a week. Over the course of a year, the church would have 100 first-time guests. With most of the members being genuinely guest friendly, you could see half of those guests become active members. Attendance could thus increase by as much as 50 persons every year.
Good interaction with guests is a huge step toward breaking attendance barriers, but it is obviously not the only step. We are launching a new subscription ministry called Church Answers. One of the three resources you will get every month is called “Breaking Barriers.” We are so excited about the response so far. You can register here. But registration closes in a few days, so hurry.

Monday, January 18, 2016

Twenty-five Really Weird Things Said to Pastors and Other Church Leaders

From Thom Rainer . . .

Few people are truly aware of the constant requests, complaints, and criticisms pastors and other church leaders receive. I must admit, however, I was surprised when I asked church leaders on Twitter to share some of the more unusual comments they have received. I was first surprised at how many responded. But I was most surprised at the really strange things people tell pastors and other church leaders.
Many of the comments related to using the Bible too much or to being too evangelistic. I should make those a blog post by themselves.
I narrowed my selection to twenty-five, but it could have been much higher. I left off many great comments to keep this post manageable. I’ve only made minor wording changes to some of these. For the most part, I received these quotes just as you are seeing them. The parenthetical words after each comment represent my off-the-cuff commentary.
  1. “We need a small group for cat lovers.” (I guess they could serve Meow Mix as a snack.)
  2. “You need to change your voice.” (Yes ma’am. I’ll try to have that done by next week.)
  3. “Our expensive coffee is attracting too many hipsters.” (Yep. You don’t want too many of those hipsters in your church.)
  4. “Preachers who don’t wear suits and ties aren’t saved. It’s in the Bible. (I should have known that’s what Jesus and Paul wore.)
  5. “Your socks are distracting.” (I understand. I’ll stop wearing socks.)
  6. “You shouldn’t make people leave the youth group after they graduate.” (It’s going to get really weird by the time they turn 70 years old.)
  7. “I don’t like the color of the towels in the women’s restroom.” (I don’t understand. They match the towels in the men’s restroom.)
  8. “We need to start attracting more normal people at church.” (So, you will be leaving the church, I presume.)
  9. “I developed cancer because you don’t preach from the KJV.” (Major medical announcement! New carcinogen discovered!)
  10. “Your wife never compliments me about my hair or dress.” (There could be a reason for that.)
  11. “Not enough people signed up for the church golf tournament. You have poor leadership skills.” (I’m so sorry. I expected more since most of the deacons play golf on Sunday morning)
  12. “I think you are trying to preach caffeineism.” (Probably Reformed theology with an extra kick.)
  13. “If Jesus sang from the red hymnals, why can’t we?” (I think you are mistaken. He sang from blue hymnals.)
  14. (To a pastor who married interracially). “You are living in sin. You shouldn’t be married to each other.” (That one is not worthy of commentary.)
  15. “I don’t like the brand of donuts in the foyer.” (It’s better than Meow Mix.)
  16. “You didn’t wrap the hot dogs in bacon for the church picnic.” (I understand that one. Bacon rules.)
  17. “You shouldn’t drink water when you preach.” (At least not simultaneously.)
  18. “The toilet paper is on the wrong way in the ladies restroom. It’s rolled under.” (My guess is that it is still functional.)
  19. “Why don’t you ever preach on Tim Tebow?” (Be patient. I will be preaching a six-week expository series on him in the fall.)
  20. “You don’t have ashtrays in the fellowship hall.” (Yes we do. They are right next to the spittoons for your chewing tobacco.)
  21. “Did you see me waving in the back of the worship center? You preached too long. It was time to eat!” (Who needs a clock when I have you?)
  22. “The eggs were not scrambled enough at the senior adult breakfast.” (We thought you could jump up and down after you ate them to finish the job.)
  23. “You don’t look at our side of the worship center enough when you preach.”(That’s because you are on that side.)
  24. “We are leaving the church because you have a red cross on the building. That’s the color of the devil.” (I understand. It’s in the same verse that describes his pitchfork and horns.)
  25. “Your sermon needed more calories.” (Okay. I’ll feed it one of those donuts in the foyer.)
Pastors and other church leaders must have great patience and strength. They are faced with these and many other comments and demands every day. I love these church leaders, and I thank God for them.
Share with me what comments you have received. And tell me what you think of the twenty-five comments that were shared with me.

Friday, January 15, 2016

Nine Observations about Announcements in Worship Services

Another good blog post from Thom Rainer . . .

To have or not to have announcements in the worship services? That is the question many church leaders ask today. And indeed there are several tendencies or trends related to announcements, and they are often related to the size of the church.
I asked a number of church leaders of congregations of varying sizes about their practices in this area. They pretty much confirmed what I am seeing as well. Here are my nine observations:
  1. More church leaders do not think announcements should be a part of the worship services. Their churches are more likely to have announcements projected on a screen prior to the worship service, or not to have them at all in the worship center.
  2. Large churches (700 and up in average worship attendance) are highly unlikely to have announcements as a part of the worship service. As noted above, they may have the announcements projected on a screen prior to the worship service.
  3. Smaller churches (under 200 in average worship attendance) are very likely to include announcements as a traditional part of the worship service.Excluding them would likely cause some level of conflict in the church.
  4. Video or projected announcements have grown commensurate with the growth of projected lyrics during the worship music. Because the technology and equipment is available for the music, more churches also use it for announcements.
  5. With greater frequency, pastors limit making announcements unless they are a major or visional issue. This trend is growing in all churches except smaller congregations.
  6. More congregations limit announcements before or during the worship services to those issues that affect most or all of the congregants. For example, it is becoming less likely for announcements to be made about a committee meeting that involves only six people.
  7. Many pastors are still asked to make announcements right before worship services begin. Often they are handed a slip of paper or told adamantly that something must be announced. I will address this issue in a later blog post.
  8. Pastors also receive pressure from different groups and individuals to make certain their announcements are made. Most every church member has his or her own idea about priorities in the church. One pastor recently told me that a church member got mad at him because he did not announce that the member’s daughter was named salutatorian of her senior high school class.
  9. Most church leaders believe that the retention rate of announcements by members is low. If retention is indeed low, it would indicate that most times of announcements are done due to pressure or tradition or both.

What is your church’s approach to announcements in the worship services? How effective do you think they are? What is your reaction to these nine observations?

Wednesday, January 13, 2016

10 Things You Shouldn’t Say to a Pastor Right After the Sermon

This is from Thom S. Rainer.
I’ve actually assembled more than ten things church members have told pastors immediately after they preached. But these are ten responses where pastors have had the most visceral reactions.
  1. “I am going to be late for lunch because you preached so long.”
  2. “You must not have had much time to prepare that sermon.”
  3. “My former pastor preached a much better sermon from that text.”
  4. “I wish {fill in the blank} would have heard that sermon.”
  5. “You act like you weren’t feeling well while you preached.”
  6. “I’m sorry I fell asleep while you were preaching. Your voice just puts me to sleep.”
  7. “Your subject/verb agreement was incorrect three times in your sermon.”
  8. “I wish you wouldn’t preach from the Old Testament.”
  9. “Let me tell you what you missed in your sermon.”
  10. “Are we ever going to be done with this sermon series?”
Pastors often take 10 to 20 hours to prepare a sermon. They pray for God to speak through them. They preach with conviction and fervency. And then they hear one of these sentences.
These ten responses are close approximations of what pastors have actually told me. I am sure there are many more. Let us hear what they are.

Tuesday, January 12, 2016


This is an excellent primer for parents on electronic devices.  I must confess that sometimes I wonder if I made the right decision to let my kids have and use electronic devices at all!  From Trevin Wax.

“As someone who spends countless hours on airplanes, I never cease to be amazed at the number of professional, college-educated adults who, when presented with a three-hour stretch of downtime, proceed to spend that time playing video games. Our countries invest 5 percent of their GDPs in universal education; teachers invite us into the labyrinths of history and the imaginative worlds of literature; parents make sacrifices for us to attend Christian schools and colleges. And we play Angry Birds. We’re not educated for this, surely.”

He goes on to warn his students:

“If I ever see you on a plane playing a video game, I will accost you, and I will be disappointed, and I will forthrightly remind you: you weren’t educated for this. The world needs your (continuing) education, and your soul is starving for it. We are remarkably well-educated dwarfs standing on the shoulders of giants who could only dream of what we enjoy. Let’s not squander our inheritance.”

With Smith, I’m also disappointed when I see people fail to fully appreciate just what a privilege it is to receive an education, own a library of books, and have access to so many resources in the English language. But I’m afraid this squandering is likely to get worse, not better. The generation coming after us has never known of life without video games, electronic devices, and iPhones with countless apps.


What can we do as parents to shape the habits of our children?

What can we do to help them make wise choices regarding the time they spend on electronic devices?

Do we ban devices and games? Do we set limits? What is the best way forward?

Many parents wrestle with these questions. I know, because my wife and I have discussed this issue with other couples on many occasions.

Our family has implemented a system that works well for us. I realize our way isn’t the only way, so I’ve asked a few Christian leaders and thinkers to share how they approach this issue. Below are some principles to consider.

1. Instead of banning electronic devices altogether, train your kids to discipline themselves.

The assumption among every family I spoke with is that there is a legitimate place for video games and iPhone apps and other forms of entertainment. Like watching television or listening to the radio, we can enjoy entertainment and leisure time in moderation.

Trillia Newbell, an author friend of mine, explained her family’s view:

“We think devices are fine as long as they are monitored and have clear instructions, and restrictions.”

In other words, it is better to help your children order their time wisely than to take away the opportunity to show self-control. Never use a device as a babysitter.

Aaron Earls, online editor of Facts and Trends, sees value in using video games for family time. On Friday nights, for example, his family will have a Wii family game night and everyone will play together. Electronic devices, in their proper place, can bring the family together instead of causing everyone to drift to separate rooms with separate screens.

2. Never allow your children to be alone with unfettered access to electronic devices.

Kevin DeYoung, pastor of University Reformed Church and father of six children, confesses that it is difficult to keep up with everything all his kids are doing. But there is one rule his family won’t budge on:

“No TV, computers, phones, or tablets in the bedroom. Screens are used in public areas, not in private.”

In the Wax home, our kids have limited access to our old, no-longer-in-use iPhones. But we set restrictions on those phones. That way, the kids are unable to unlock the phone, access the Internet, or make purchases. Take advantage of the restrictions settings on phones and tablets.

3. Set the timer.

When our kids play the Wii, they have to set the timer in the kitchen. When they play on our old iPhones, we set the Timer feature to “Stop Playing” so that the game shuts down and the phone locks when the timer goes off. Our rule is 30 minutes a day during the week, and an hour a day during the weekend.

Dan Darling, an author who works at the ERLC, limits his children’s screen time to an hour a day, with some give-and-take on holidays, special times, etc.

For Trillia Newbell’s family, the timer has been a huge help:

“The kids know exactly what to expect and it helps eliminate confusion. It also gives them something to look forward to. They enjoy their time on devices much more now than before we implemented to timer. They focus on playing because they realize they’ll need to be off for the night/day otherwise.”

4. Use electronic devices as motivation for reading.

A few years ago, I asked one of my favorite authors, N. D. Wilson, how parents can instill a love of reading in their kids. He told me that he and his wife allow their kids to stay up at night as long as they want, as long as they are reading. We tried that a few times, but our kids like to go to bed early.

What has helped them develop a love for reading is what we call “reading for time.” Our kids have the opportunity to earn more than their 30-minute-a-day allotment of electronics time by matching that time with reading. If they want to play games for 30 more minutes, great! But first, they must read for thirty minutes.

Our kids love this system. They’ve both taken to reading books they enjoy, and it helps them see electronic time as a privilege, not a right.

Aaron Earls’ family does something similar. In 30-minute segments, they can earn additional time on an electronic device. Using this method, his boys have already read classics like The Chronicles of Narnia and The Lord of the Rings.


I want my kids to enjoy the Nintendo and the iPhone and the creative worlds of Minecraft. But I also want them to enjoy playing outside, reading good books, and growing up as well-rounded kids. I’m thankful that my parents limited my access to Nintendo when I was growing up, and that’s why I can’t imagine setting them loose to play devices for hours on end.

The challenge for parents is to be consistent in the principles we put into practice in our homes. Make sure your kids understand why you’re setting limits. Discuss why certain games and shows are inappropriate. As Dan Darling says,

“Try to instill in your kids a sense of discernment that will help them when they leave the nest.”

That’s right. Discernment and self-control, where you can take time for leisure without letting leisure take over your time.

Friday, January 8, 2016

How to Survive World Religions 101

I found this on Gospel Coalition website in their most popular posts of 2015.  Here is the introduction:

Michael Kruger entered his freshman year at the University of North Carolina as a committed Christian. He thought he was ready for the intellectual challenges college would mount against his faith—that is, until he found himself sitting in a New Testament introduction class with Bart Ehrman as his professor. It left him shell-shocked. 
Many students can relate. Churches often have a hard time preparing their youth for a secular university environment. They equip them on a moral level, which is good and important, yet fail to prepare them intellectually and doctrinally. So how can churches better brace young people for the day their faith will be challenged, attacked, and deemed intellectually indefensible by professors and peers?
In this new video, Kruger, president and professor of New Testament and early Christianity at Reformed Theological Seminary in Charlotte, shares some of the lessons he learned in college. He encourages students to check their expectations, prepare for opposition, dig for answers, and more. Above all, he urges them to anchor themselves in the local church.

Wednesday, January 6, 2016

The Importance of Teaching the Big Story, Not Just Morals

Sometimes someone will say to me that they want more practical teaching. What they usually mean is that they want me to tell them specific actions to take or do. That is an easy thing to do but usually leads to moralism. My goal as a preacher is not to tell people what to do but to paint a picture of the grandeur and glory of God and what he has done for us in Christ. It is my conviction that as one sits under this latter kind of teaching, the mind and the heart are shaped and transformed which frees up the will to obey God as a response to the beauty and joy one finds in Christ (Rom 12:2). This is particularly important for us in regards to teaching our children. If we take the moralistic route of teaching children rules we can end up raising up good little moralistic church kids that have no interest in Christ! Here is a good article from Christianity Today on the importance of how to teach children.
Ed: Why do you think the storyline of the Bible itself is important for kids to know? Why do they need to know the big story?
Lou Cha (Kenwood Baptist Church, Cincinnati, OH): As a congregation, we value the whole counsel of Scripture...
It’s like a puzzle and the kids do not see the whole picture. It’s important for kids as they are growing and learning God’s Word to be able to put the puzzle pieces together to see how they connect and that the God of the Old Testament is the same God as the God of the New Testament. And that since the creation of the world and the fall of humanity, He’s been redeeming people to Himself. This is what God has been doing all along.
It provides a more consistent picture and image of who God is. It also demonstrates to the children the character, the faithfulness, the compassion, and also the righteousness of God throughout the different historical periods of the Bible and the different people in the Bible.
I think it really helps children to be able to piece the Bible together to see the whole picture, and not just have missing pieces and missing parts of their Bible knowledge and understanding.
Kate Neighbors (Valley Baptist Church, Bakersfield, CA): One thing that I love about the idea of the story is that children are learning at younger and younger ages a worldview that is contradictory to the Bible. I think by telling them the story, even though it’s taking us three years, we’re showing and teaching them truth, absolute truth about the Bible. And we’re equipping them to understand what the Bible says versus what the world is telling them.
I love the idea that The Gospel Project takes it a step further and says here’s Christ in creation, here’s Christ in the Judges, here’s Christ in the Prophets, and here’s Christ’s actual life. And then they see how once Christ died, His followers didn’t stop. So I just love that from the beginning in Genesis 1:1 to Revelation, we’re seeing what Christ has to do with everything.
Ned Gable (12Stone Church, Lawrenceville, GA): I had the benefit of growing up with my dad teaching me at children’s church, and he taught us through the Bible. He taught chronologically and how everything built upon the next and would literally repeat a year of Old Testament, a year of New Testament, and then cycle back through. So we got that over and over and over and over. I grew up with a framework of the Bible. And when I would step into a sermon, or when I was older and hear a sermon taught from Scripture, I knew where it fit. I knew how it plugged in and I was able to take that and learn from it.
My first year in Bible college was a review of what I had learned up til sixth grade because I literally had a big picture framework that I could hang it on. It wasn’t just random ideas and random stories at all. It played into a bigger idea and a bigger picture and a bigger plan of what God was doing.
So I was so excited when this came out that we had the opportunity now to take that same type of thing that I had the benefit of growing up with, and give that to kids as well so that they can have that framework that puts it all together. The Bible is not just a collection of random things, but is one big story and one message and one plan.
Sam Luce (Redeemer Church, Utica, NY): I would say that I think one reason it’s so important to teach [the whole story], is that oftentimes we tend to teach kids disconnected facts about the Bible that can be—on their own—refuted. And when kids get older and go to college those disconnected points of information can be brought into question. But when they see them tied into the larger story of what God is doing, and the larger story of who He is and what He’s done in the earth and what He’s done in their life, it ties all those points together for them and creates a much tighter web—net—of truth that is much harder to be refuted by others.
Kathie Phillips (Central Presbyterian Church, Baltimore, MD): One of the things that drew me to The Gospel Project was that the whole scope of the Bible being presented—[it] offered a different perspective then I think a lot of our kids had gotten who had really grown up in church. I think digging into the Old Testament, which is where we fell when we started to subscribe to it, was a section of the Bible that not many of our kids were familiar with. And I think it gave a different picture of the cutesy kind of God who made the world and Noah and those kind of things and then just skipping over to the New Testament. I think that they were able to see a different side of God through the hard things that happened in some of those Old Testament passages.
Karen Dolan (Redeemer Presbyterian Church, New York, New York): I would say obviously that’s something that I don’t have all figured out or have all the answers to, but something that I think we do at Redeemer from our congregation to our children’s ministries, is that what we’ve focused on is making all of the curriculum and all the stories point back to Christ, our need for Him, and why we’re talking about this. Why are we learning these Bible stories? Why do we study the Bible?
And even if you are learning a story in the Old Testament or something that doesn’t seem like it directly has a tie-in to Christ and our need for salvation, we always try to make it point back to that. Because I think from a young age kids are getting that life is more about just being good. We’re trying to tell them and instill in them that we are sinners in need of a Savior and there’s nothing we can do on our own apart from Christ to learn that. So that’s something that we try and really put into all of our curriculum.
On Thursday, we'll continue this discussion and I'll post the next part of our conversation, in which we talk about why it's important we teach children to have their own faith and love Jesus for themselves—not just because their parents told them to do it.

Monday, January 4, 2016


From Trevin Wax.
Evangelism is a scary word for many Christians. Whether it’s because we fear rejection, feel unqualified, or are uncomfortable with making a truth claim in a pluralistic culture, we often shy away from evangelism, either by retreating to the realm of personal testimony or by avoiding spiritual conversations altogether.
Our pastor, Mike Lee, recently preached on evangelism by offering five questions that need to be answered by those who seek to be faithful in following the Great Commission. I’ve adapted these questions here and added a sixth. I commend them to you because they peel back the layers of our defensiveness toward evangelism and help us see what needs to be in place before we will be confident, joyful, and effective tellers of the good news.
Answer “no” to any of these questions and your evangelistic passion will suffer.

1. The Compassion Question: Do we care that people are dying without faith in Jesus Christ?

Before we can hope to be “good news tellers,” we have to be formed by the good news into compassionate and loving people. If we believe that people without Jesus truly are lost – both in this world and in the next – then compassion ought to be a motivator for our evangelism.
Takeaway: We share because we care.

2. The Culture Question: Do we understand why people reject the gospel? 

What are the most common objections people give for choosing not to believe in Jesus? What cultural trends make it difficult for people to believe, whether intellectually (existence of God, reality of miracles), morally (God’s purpose for sexuality), or experientially (inability to accept God’s forgiveness)?
It’s said that Francis Schaeffer was once asked how he would share the gospel with someone in an hour. He said he would spend 55 minutes listening and five minutes talking, because only then would he know how to share the gospel in a way that would overcome objections.
Takeaway: Good missionaries know their culture and listen to people.

3. The Content Question: Do we know what the good news is that we’re sharing?

I’ve been particularly burdened about helping people know the answer to this question. It’s why I wroteCounterfeit Gospels and Gospel-Centered TeachingWe won’t be effective tellers of good news unless we’re clear on what the good news is. Therapeutic and moralistic distortions of the gospel abound in a culture awash in “moralistic therapeutic deism.” How do we present the gospel in a way that is faithful to Scripture?
Takeaway: Evangelists must know the evangel they are proclaiming.

4. The Confidence Question: Do we believe that God really saves sinners?

The way to counteract your feelings of inadequacy in evangelism is not by growing in confidence in yourself or your persuasive abilities, but in growing in your confidence in the power of the gospel to save! People who doubt the reality of conversion are not likely to share the gospel. People who share their faith, trust that God can use their stumbling, imperfect gospel presentations. Those who see God change lives are most likely to get excited about evangelism. The power is in the gospel, not us.
Takeaway: Confidence in the power of the gospel is what motivates us to share it.

5. The Commitment Question: Do we believe God has given us the responsibility of evangelism?    

Do you believe God has given this responsibility to you? Do you believe that the proclamation of His Word is the way He saves people?
If, deep down, you’re an inclusivist who believes God may have other ways of saving people, then you’ll stay quiet about the gospel. If, deep down, you’re a Hyper-Calvinist who believes God will save people whether you share your faith or not, then you’ll stay quiet about the gospel. The question here concerns commitment: Do you believe you’ve been given this amazing privilege and weighty responsibility and that the Holy Spirit will use you to draw people to God?
Takeaway: We won’t share the gospel unless we understand the privilege and necessity of evangelism.

6. The Calling Question: Are you willing to ask someone to repent and believe, and then disciple them in the faith?

Sometimes we talk about Jesus but never arrive at the point of inviting someone to repent of their sins and put their faith in Christ. We spend time sowing seeds but are reticent to reap the harvest. Maybe it’s because we are afraid they will say no, but maybe it’s because we are afraid they will say yes! If someone receives Christ, we now have the responsibility to bring them into the church through baptism, and “teach them to obey everything Christ has commanded.”
Takeaway: We won’t call for conversion until we are committed to the people we are evangelizing.

Friday, January 1, 2016

The Necessity of Understanding the Overarching Story of the Bible to Understanding God' Mission

"In order to build a biblical-theological framework for understanding God's mission, the church's mission, and the church's mission to the nations, one must first understand the unified biblical narrative, including its four major plot movements--creation, fall, redemption, and restoration." from Bruce Ashford, Theology and Practice of Mission.