Monday, April 4, 2022

The Church Has Two Missions: Narrow and Broad

What is the mission of the church? Answering that requires defining what we mean by the “church.” Theologians make distinctions between the universal and local church, the invisible and visible church, the institutional and organic church, or the gathered and scattered church. For our immediate purposes, I’m not interested in any of these distinctions.

The distinction we need is similar to an old Presbyterian division between the elders’ “joint” and “several” power. They say elders are authorized to do some things together or “jointly,” like excommunicate; and other things independently or “severally,” like teach. I don’t expect to revive the language of “joint” versus “several,” but that is the distinction we need for thinking about the church’s mission. Why? Because ascertaining what the mission of the church is requires us to ascertain whom God authorized to do what. To rephrase “joint” and “several,” then, I think we can say that God authorizes a church-as-organized-collective one way and a church-as-its-members another way.[1]


Broadly, Christ authorizes a church-as-its-members with a kingly authority to represent him as God-imaging sons and citizens, whether gathered together or scattered apart. That’s not to deny there is also something priestly about a church-as-its-members. We’re priest-kings, after all. But I do mean to put the accent on the kingly authority of ruling here.

Narrowly, God authorizes a church-as-organized-collective with a distinct priestly authority to publicly separate sinners from the world and to reconcile them to himself and his people through [re-]naming and teaching.

Very plainly, then, what is the mission of the church? The narrow mission of a church-as-organized collective is to make disciples and citizens of Christ’s kingdom. The broad mission of a church-as-its-members is to be disciples and citizens of Christ’s kingdom. The narrow employs judge-like or priestly words of formal separation, identification, and instruction. The broad rules and lives as sons of the king, representing the heavenly Father in all of life’s words and deeds. The narrow protects the holy place where God dwells, which is his temple, the church. The broad pushes God’s witness into new territory, expanding where his rule is acknowledged. For illustration purposes, we might say the narrow mission is to be an embassy, while the broad mission is to be an ambassador.

In the congregationalist conception, seeing how the two sides of the ledger work together is quite simple. Every church member, by virtue of his or her salvation, is a priest-king. Therefore every member is put to work mediating God’s judgments with the gathered church and ruling on God’s behalf whether gathered or scattered. To ask a member of a congregationalist church about the mission of the church requires specifying which hat you mean for him or her to wear: the whole-church-together hat or the church-member hat? In the presbyterian or episcopalian conception, the priestly and kingly roles work together similarly, but a greater place is given to the church officers in the “Narrow mission” column for acting on behalf of the whole church. That’s why I some advocates of the broad mission might look at the “narrow” column and regard that as the mission of the officers.


Why is it important to maintain the distinction between the church’s broad and narrow mission? First—believe it or not—for the sake of clarity. It satisfies our conflicting intuitions. When someone asks me, “What’s the mission of the church?” or “Is caring for creation church work?” or “Does the church’s work center on words or both words and deeds?” or “Is the church’s mission to care for the poor?” I need to know whether the questioner means the church as a corporate actor or the church as its individual members.

Second, the distinction protects the pastoral and programmatic priority the church-as-organized-collective should give to the narrow mission since that is its job. Several friends run a website that states in one place, “Christian churches must work for justice and peace in their neighborhoods through service.” If by that they mean that my church, Capitol Hill Baptist Church, “must” hire staff members to do political engagement or mercy ministry, then I vehemently disagree. That would bind where Scripture does not bind. If they mean that the members of Capitol Hill Baptist “must” seek justice and peace through serving others, each according to their callings and stewardships, then I entirely agree. At the moment of this writing, in fact, I am teaching a Sunday School class called Christians and Government in which I am teaching just that.

Third, maintaining a broad mission for the church severally is critical for obeying everything Jesus commanded his followers to do. It is critical for cultivating “integral” (a useful word I learned from Christopher Wright)[2] Christian lives and for warding off hypocrisy and nominalism. It keeps us from imposing a false line between the secular and the sacred for the Christian. My loving, feeding, teaching, and evangelizing my children is all of one piece.

Fourth, maintaining a narrow mission focused on adjudicatory words for the church jointly is critical for identifying the saints, equipping the saints, maintaining the existence of the local church, and maintaining the line between the church and the world. The individual Christian or church member is not authorized to do everything the whole church is, and the individual Christian needs the whole church to do its specially-sanctioned work in order for the individual to identify as a Christian and to live the Christian life that God intends.

Fifth, keeping one eye on the narrow mission keeps us eschatalogically honest. Christ has come, but the curse remains. We cannot “transform” or “redeem” anything from which the curse has not been lifted. At its worst, transformationism is a kind of disillusionment-promising prosperity gospel. Yes, the kings of the earth will bring their glory into the New Jerusalem (Rev. 21:24), as so many transformationalists today point out. But is this verse talking about Genghis Kahn, Margaret Thatcher, and Donald Trump, or about the sons of the kingdom, the saints? Either way, why not encourage Christians in their vocations through the many passages commending faith and working unto Christ, rather than speculating on one verse from apocalyptic literature? The church’s goal is not to transform the world, but to live together as a transformed world, and to invite the nations in word and deed to the Transformer.[3]

Sixth, by the same token, the distinct narrow mission reminds us to calibrate everything in our broad vocation according to the eternal possibilities of heaven or hell, destinies with much biblical support. And it gives urgency to our evangelistic witness in word and deed.

Seventh, the narrow mission of the church jointly both shapes and “brands” the whole Christian life. The average church member should not think that evangelizing their neighbor comes before caring for their own children or building good houses or being honest lawyers. But it does mean their parenting, lawyering, and building should be performed for Christ and one’s witness to Christ, as if everything we did had a fish bumper sticker on it.

Eighth, maintaining the distinction both preserves the existence of the local church and properly situates the individual Christian to a church. No one would try to blur the distinction between the law school’s mission and the lawyer’s mission. Each needs the other. Many Christians today, however, underestimate the role and distinct authority of the local church. They fail to see that the individual Christian life should equal the church member’s life and should be lived in submission to the church’s affirmation, oversight, and discipleship. When a believer harbors these mistaken assumptions, a broad mission won’t require otherwise, even if making disciples is “prioritized.” One can fulfill a broad mission apart from membership in a local church so long as one finds fellowship (with Christian friends on the golf course or at the gym?), good teaching (favorite podcast preachers?), songs of praise (car karaoke with Christian radio and my wife?), the Lord’s Supper (with a friend over dinner or at the annual Christian conference?), and doing good to all people (occasionally volunteering at the local soup kitchen or voting in elections?). The only thing that formally requires believers to join a local church as a matter of obedience—above and beyond pragmatic considerations—is the fact that the church-as-organized-collective possesses an authority the individual Christian does not possess. Take away that distinct authority and mission, and at best the local church becomes optional. If submission to the local church is a “good” not “necessary” thing, we also have to say the existence of the local church itself is a good, not necessary thing. Lest all this sounds hyperbolic, those advocating for an undifferentiated broad mission should realize that a decent-sized swath of less careful American “Christians” adopt precisely this optional approach to “church.”

On the other hand, too many so-called Christians today have learned that “church” and even “Christianity” is a one-day-a-week affair, and so nominal Christianity abounds both in the state-churches of Europe and the revivalistic and seeker churches of America. And when that’s the case the narrow definition alone will more likely appeal to them. “Leave me alone. I was baptized and prayed a prayer!”

All this is why I want to keep these two missions or jobs distinct, and then to insist that both the church-as-organized-collective and church-as-its-individual-members each do their God-assigned jobs. We need both the narrow and broad definition of the church’s mission, and we need to maintain them distinctly. Losing the broad definition tempts the Christian to separate Sunday from the rest of the week. Losing the narrow definition tempts us to let go of the local church and to downplay the significance of verbal witness and to blur the line between regenerate and unregenerate. And both errors will lead to Christian nominalism, ethical complacency, and eventually the death of churches.

Editor’s note: Taken from Four Views on the Church’s Mission by Jasons S. Sexton, general editor.
Copyright © 2017 by Jason Sexton, Jonathan Leeman, Christopher J. H. Wright, John
Franke, Peter Leithart. Used by permission of Zondervan.

For a conversation on this topic with Mark Dever and Jonathan Leeman, check out Episode 25 of Pastors’ Talk.

* * * * *


[1] Notice, then, I am not making the institutional/organic distinction of Abraham Kuyper. Both sides of my distinction involve authority or an institutional element. I as an individual Christian represent Christ on Monday to Saturday at home and at work because I am a baptized, Lord’s Supper-receiving member of Capitol Hill Baptist Church. The so-called institutional church is right there with me at the dinner table or in the office all week by virtue of my participation in the ordinances.

[2] Stott and Wright, Christian Mission, 47-48, 54.

[3] See John C. Nugent, Endangered Gospel: How Fixing the World Is Killing the Church (Eugene, OR: Cascade Books, 2016), 192, 194.

Tuesday, March 29, 2022

How Church Discipline Aims at Heaven

This is a helpful article on church discipline from 9Marks . . . 

The church of Jesus Christ lives in the overlap of the old age and the new—the “already/not yet,” as it’s often called. We are at the same time living in the kingdom of God and seated with Christ in heavenly places (Eph. 2:6), but we are also longing to be with Christ personally and reign with him eternally. We find this tension throughout the New Testament:

  • The believer is saved in Christ (Eph. 2:8), but yet to be saved (Rom. 5:9);
  • The believer is adopted in Christ (Rom. 8:15), but yet to be adopted (Rom. 8:23);
  • The believer is redeemed in Christ (Eph. 1:7), but yet to be redeemed (Eph. 4:30);
  • The believer is sanctified in Christ (1 Cor. 1:2), but yet to be sanctified (1 Thess. 5:23–24).
  • The believer is raised with Christ (Eph. 2:6), but yet to be raised (1 Cor. 15:52).

Churches must live in light of this tension. As the community of the new creation that still lives in the old order, our job as Christians is to build up the church and prepare her for the appearing of Christ so that no one is ashamed at his appearing (1 Jn. 2:28). One primary way we do this might surprise you: we practice church discipline (cf. Matt 18:15–18, 1 Cor. 5:1–13, 2 Thess. 3:14–15, Titus 3:10). We practice church discipline for the sake of the church’s holiness, to honor God, and to prepare one another to meet the Lord (Eph. 5:26–27, 1 Thess. 5:23–24, Jude 24–25).

You’re probably familiar with 1 Corinthians 5, one of the New Testament’s most important texts on church discipline. In this passage, Paul indicates that a member of the church is living in an incestuous relationship with his father’s wife. To add to the scandal, the church is seemingly tolerating the situation. Paul instead urges them to deal with the matter decisively and immediately.

But have you ever noticed the overarching goal in Paul’s counsel to discipline? By refusing to associate or fellowship with the man living sin (5:11), the church effectively hands the man over to Satan for the “destruction of his flesh in order that his spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord” (5:5) In other words, Paul hopes that confronting this man’s sin today will lead him to repent so that on the final day he’ll be among those who truly know Christ and receive his mercy.

Church discipline is an advance warning to the erring brother of the inevitable end-time judgment against his sin. It aims at “saving his soul” and restoring him to repentance. In other words, church discipline aims at heaven.

Consider these three ways discipline aims at heaven.

1. Church discipline prepares us for the Lord’s appearing.

The goal of church ministry is to present God’s people holy and blameless before her Lord (Col. 1:28). The church is both saved and awaiting her ultimate salvation. So in the present, she is called to work out her salvation (Phil. 2:12). Believers must put off the old self, renew their minds, and put on Christ-like virtues (Eph. 4:22–24). The church must continuously grow to reflect the Lord they claim to know and follow. Moreover, they’re assured that when he appears they will be entirely like him (1 Jn. 3:1–3).

Therefore, when a believer isn’t living consistently according to his profession, the church has both the obligation and the opportunity to confront that person to help them live according to Christ’s commands. The vast majority of time this process happens through a single conversation. One believer confronts another about a sin; the confronted believer receives that rebuke with gladness and repents. Occasionally, however, such conversations about serious sin aren’t received well. Jesus outlines the process of what to do in those situations in Matthew 18.

This whole process—whether it ends after a single conversation or a congregational vote—ensures that God’s people will be prepared for the Lord’s return. When we practice church discipline, we’re preparing both the disciplined person and ourselves for the Lord’s appearing.

2. Church discipline fosters pure worship of God.

The church cannot worship God while living in sin. Scripture warns us that if we live in sin, God will not hear our prayers (Ps. 66:18). Our offerings will not be acceptable if we have unresolved issues with a brother (Matt. 5:24). A husband’s prayers may go unheard if he doesn’t treat his wife well (1 Pet. 3:7).

The standard here, of course, is not perfection. Every Christian is a sinner, and every church is full of sinners. But the standard should be holiness, a posture that takes sin seriously and doesn’t tolerate it either due to misguided compassion or ignorance. Simply put, a church cannot worship God rightly if she is not living righteously. Pure and honourable worship of God takes place insofar as the church pursues Christ, and a faithful practice of church discipline fosters pure worship.

The church’s worship on earth is a foretaste of our worship in heaven when God’s people will gather to worship her God in all purity and unity.

3. Church discipline exalts Christ.

Christ is the head of the Church. He is her source and her sustainer. She exists to please her Lord and master, to the praise of his glorious name. Christ offered himself as a sacrifice so that we may take on his righteousness and live righteously.

Believers therefore exalt Christ by pursuing holiness. When believers covenant together to follow Christ, they commit to helping one another grow in holiness and, in so doing, they honor his name. Through discipline the church holds its members accountable to live on earth as citizens of heaven.

When we think of church discipline, it’s easy for us to detach it from our future hope. We only think of the cost and the difficulty in the here-and-now. We don’t think about the future. But we must guard against that temptation. As we commit to helping each other grow in holiness by gently and graciously confronting sin in one another, we’re looking toward heaven. We practice discipline so that the church of Jesus Christ may be presented holy and blameless before her master. We practice church discipline because we long to see erring brothers and sisters restored, because we long to see them in heaven.


Monday, March 14, 2022

Four Lessons on Bad Ecclesiology from the Rise and Fall of Mars Hill

 I am not blogging on this site as much anymore, posting more on our church's Facebook page. I do and will continue to post articles are are more geared toward ministry leaders. Many have listened to the the recent podcast, The Rise and Fall of Mars Hill.  I found it fascinating, insightful, helpful, and revealing in many ways.  Here are four lessons on bad ecclesiology by Jonathan Leeman.

Now that everyone has stopped talking about Mike Cosper’s podcast series on the rise and fall of Mark Driscoll and Mars Hill Church, published by Christianity Today, I thought it was high time to wade in. Leave it to 9Marks for a Pony Express delivery of hot takes.

Cosper’s podcast reminds me of Blue Like Jazz. Like Don Miller’s iconic 2003 book, it’s well-crafted and cool. More than that, both products caught the cultural winds at just the right moment, accelerating their popularity. A sailboat might be well-made, but it still needs wind. And Cosper and Miller found fortuitous weather conditions.

Blue Like Jazz caught the postmodern, anti-consumeristic, and anti-megachurch gales that the Gen-X kids who grew up in 1980s and 90s youth-groups felt around the turn of the millennium. He embodied their vibe and expressed their misgivings better than anyone. Cosper has caught recent gusts of growing existential angst over complementarianism and Calvinism, abuse and authority, engendered by everything from the #MeToo movement to anti-Trump exasperation. Driscoll’s message and leadership style, after all, are the Platonic ideal of what today’s climate can’t stand. No one else thought to do this in a dramatized podcast form, but now that Cosper’s done it, it feels like it was inevitable, as with Emerson’s poet whose genius lay in holding up a mirror to the world around him.


My goal here is not to review the series—what I liked, what I didn’t like—but to offer four lessons that I think are a little more timeless, and lessons that point to the worst inevitabilities of bad ecclesiology.

1. We’re too easily seduced by numbers and giftedness.

With a story about the rise and fall of something, everyone wants to know who the good guys and bad guys are. There’s one bad guy I want to usher more clearly into the light, because I suspect many listeners overlooked him: pragmatism.

Pragmatism is a results-driven orientation, especially results that can be measured, like dollars in the plate or bodies in the pew. It throws overboard almost everything else the Bible says about being a church in pursuit of those numeric goals. Little by little, churches value leaders more for their giftedness than their faithfulness, their charisma more than their character.

The members, too, change. We begin acting more like an audience than a body. More like consumers than a family. Our desires for our church change. Our expectations morph. And our commitments to each other grow thin.

The ironic thing is, Driscoll rose up in the Young, Restless, & Reformed world, a world that is supposedly theologically driven and knows you should spit when you say “pragmatism.” Driscoll himself called church consumerism “a sin” (Vintage Church, 252). But a dynamic young leader drawing big crowds and reaching new groups makes us lose our heads. He exposes how much pragmatism remains in us, since pragmatism, in the final analysis, means living by sight and not by faith. Sight says, “Look at those polling numbers! Tell everyone it’s a movement of God.” Faith says, “But is he wise? Is he building with materials that will stand the test of time?”

Cosper was correct early in the series to encourage listeners to consider themselves, like Paul laying responsibility at the feet of churches choosing ear-scratching preachers (2 Tim. 4:3). I’m not looking to lay specific blame on specific people or organizations. I’m not even saying we should completely disregard giftedness or drawing power. I am saying we should all double down on prioritizing finding leaders who are faithful to the Bible, who have exemplary character, and whose general patterns of life and speech leave you thinking, “That looks like wisdom. It feels wholesome.”

What do you value in your leaders? What are you looking for in your next pastor? Are you prioritizing the right things?

2. Character was the problem, not complementarianism.

The podcast series gave a lot of airtime to Driscoll’s version of complementarianism. Cosper didn’t say—and I don’t think Cosper personally believes—that complementarianism leads to abuse. Yet that was the conclusion for some, or at least the lingering question.

If we asked the apostle Paul to listen to the series, I don’t think he would invite us to debate the meaning of 1 Timothy 2:12. I think he would turn the page, put his finger down on chapter 3, and say, “Anyone read this?” Paul spills more ink on an elder’s character than his job description, in part because good character is crucial to the job description.

Yet I don’t want to let us complementarians off the hook either. We cannot commend the goodness of authority while failing to mention that those under authority are in a more vulnerable position (at least on earth; vulnerabilities switch before God’s judgment seat in heaven). An authority figure with good character brings life, growth, strength, joy, and vitality. But an authority figure with bad character abuses, breaks, crushes, destroys, exploits, fleeces. Bad character turns any gift of authority—parental, governmental, pastoral, etc.—into something putrid and wicked. It will turn the office into something God never designed it to be.

Which is to say, I think Paul would listen to Cosper’s Mars Hill story, point also to 1 Timothy 2:12, and remark, “No, that’s not what I meant in those verses.” Then he would go on to explain why a man’s authority in the home and church should be a source of joy and flourishing for women and men. Drawing from Jesus, he would explain that people of good character use their authority to place themselves in the position of greatest vulnerability. They put themselves at risk of the greatest pain (see Mark 10:45).

3. Nobody cares about church polity until things go south.

Yet the Mars Hill story doesn’t just feature pragmatism and character problems. It also features structural problems.

When an organization is growing and prosperous, nobody cares much about its governing structures or polity. “If it ain’t broke, why fix it?” People only care when things fall apart. Then they clamor, “Who has the power of discipline here? And who should be holding whom accountable.”

Discipline and accountability are the first things people wonder about when leaders fail. Why didn’t Driscoll keep himself accountable? Why didn’t the elders? Why didn’t an outside board? And so it goes.

As with nations and their governments, the most crucial piece of church polity is who possesses the power of accountability and discipline. The “highest” authority is the authority which can fire, eject, or execute you. Insofar as the government can execute you, they can do anything else, like raise your taxes. Discipline is authority’s teeth.

Who holds the power of discipline in an independent, elder-ruled church like Mars Hill? The elders. They are the highest authority. Indeed, they are the only authority.

Not so in congregational, presbyterian, or episcopalian-structured churches (lower-case to refer to systems of government, not denominations). Congregationalists push the authority to excommunicate down from the elders to the whole congregation. Presbyterian and episcopalians push it up to the presbytery, general assembly, or bishop.

For my part, not only do I think the downward push to the congregation is more biblical, but if the history of governments has anything to teach us, pushing power downward always does more to keep it in check. See the Federalist Papers. Not only that, by pushing accountability upward to bishops or presbyteries, you’re pushing it outward to people in other churches, those with far less first-hand knowledge of a church than its own members.

Yet never mind my quarrel with the presbyterians and episcopalians—good hearted friends—for now. We mostly agree that independent, elder-ruled churches concentrate all authority in a church’s own session in a way that’s unbiblical and unsafe, and all the more so when one elder concentrates the lion’s share of that authority in himself.

But now ask yourself: which form of church polity do pragmatists love most? You guessed it—independent pastor or elder rule. This structure is easy and efficient. You can make decisions quickly. And you don’t have to bother with outside bodies or even your own congregation. If your church asks, you can point them to Hebrews 13:17’s call to submit to pastors. Furthermore, tell them you’re prioritizing the mission, not the bureaucracy. Never mind the possibility that those authority structures might in fact prepare people for the mission.

Adopting a congregationalist, presbyterian, or episcopal church structure, on the other hand, requires a fairly developed set of ecclesiological convictions, and most folks don’t have those these days. Their inconveniences require an extra level of biblical (for the congregationalists and presbyterians) or at least historical (for the episcopalians) conviction. Yet evangelicalism and its seminaries haven’t been passing out such convictions these days. And they haven’t at least since the days of Billy Graham rallies, if not revivals going back all the way to George Whitefield. Who cares about polity differences as long as people are getting saved, right?! Polity is not essential for salvation. Therefore, it can’t be important.

Not surprisingly, the independent pastor or elder-ruled church structure has come to characterize the evangelical landscape for the last 70 years—from the Crystal Cathedral, to Willow Creek, to Saddleback, to the independent Bible churches I grew up in, to Mars Hill, to most hip church plants, to so many fundamentalist churches who work desperately to be biblical. Even those SBC megachurches which claim to be congregational are so in a rubber-stamping sort of way.

We’ve not considered the possibility that—as Mark Dever often observes—a middle lane exists somewhere in between “essential for salvation” and “completely unimportant.” Yet the sad tale of Mars Hill Church, which crushed the faith of so many, demonstrates why a middle lane is important. Polity is not essential for salvation, but it’s essential for helping the saved walk lovingly and peaceably together. It’s essential for passing the gospel to the next generation. It’s essential, finally, for biblical obedience. Driscoll’s self-manufactured structures failed his congregation and the city of Seattle in all three ways.

4. Elders don’t have the authority to discipline, but to teach.

If the final authority of discipline belongs somewhere else—not with the elders all by themselves—what authority do elders have? If Driscoll abused his, what’s the right way? It’s hard to understand the wrong unless you place it side by side with the right.

Pastoral or elder authority is the authority to teach, to set an example of godliness, to give oversight in the direction of the church, and to lead the congregation to use its authority, like me teaching my daughter to drive. Yet here’s the crucial piece, and I’m going to sound more decidedly congregational now: elders, like husbands, lack the power of discipline. (And I’m using the word “discipline” here narrowly, not as rebuking or warning, but as the final act of excommunication.)

The Bible gives parents, governments, and congregations the power of discipline insofar as it gives all three an enforcement mechanism for ensuring their decisions are obeyed. It gives parents “the rod,” governments “the sword,” and congregations “the keys” for excommunication. But scan your eyes across the pages Scripture. Can you think of any passage that gives husbands such an enforcement mechanism? You’d better say no. And what about elders—where their rule is linked to excommunication as explicitly and decisively as the congregation’s (see Matt. 18:17; 1 Cor. 5:2,4-5; 2 Cor. 2:6; Gal. 1:9)? I cannot think of one.

What’s going on here? Philosophers distinguish between the authority of command (which possess an enforcement mechanism) and the authority of counsel (which doesn’t). Parents, governments, and churches possess the former. Husbands and pastors the latter. An authority of counsel is true authority because God does lay a moral burden on wives and church members to submit, and there is an eschatological enforcement mechanism—teeth. But it’s in God’s hands, not ours. Husbands and pastors are like middle managers who are in charge of their department but cannot actually fire anyone. They’re required to use more winsome tactics if they want their department members to follow.

In other words, the fact that husbands and elders possess no enforcement mechanism changes the nature of how their authority must be exercised. It forces a man to be patient, long-suffering, tender, and consistent. It requires him to live with his wife and church in an understanding way. It requires him to woo and be winsome. He must work for growth over the long run, not forced outcomes and decisions in the short run, which is why Paul tells Timothy to teach “with all patience.” What good is a forced decision or forced love from a wife or a member of the new covenant? A husband and an elder want the flowers of loving decisions growing naturally from loving hearts.

To put it another way, an authority of counsel requires husbands and elders to honor those they lead as positionally equal. While a police officer or the parent of a young child will sometimes override the agency of those they lead for purposes of protection and instruction, respectively, a husband or elder can never do that. They must always appeal to a person’s own agency. They possess a variety of authority particularly suited to partnership and collegiality. Their leadership requires collaboration, involvement, and consent from the ones they lead.

My guess is that many husbands and elders at Mars Hill Church did lead this way, because they were reading their Bibles and God is gracious to teach his people in spite of bad leadership. Yet too many stories in Cosper’s narration about Driscoll featured something different—leading, as it were, by slamming a fist on the table; leading with fear and forms of coercion; leading by diminishing people and not empowering them.

When an elder or pastor treats all authority as one thing, and fails to realize that God has established different kinds of authority, he begins to exercise his authority coercively. It becomes characterized by demands, not invitations. Combine that with underlying character issues, and you have a recipe for disaster.


Let me sum up the ecclesiological angle on the rise and fall of Mars Hill in a way that might sound a little arrogant, but I hope is not: the rise and fall of Mars Hill were not surprising. There’s a reason that, for over two decades, 9Marks has been insisting that churches look to the Bible for their ecclesiology and polity, like Protestants did for centuries, at least up to our great-grandparent’s generation. And have you noticed that so many of today’s church scandals have occurred in independent, elder-ruled churches?

Good ecclesiology is not just an academic enterprise for the folks who want to cross their theological “t”s and dot their polity “i”s. Ecclesiology is the social outworking of the gospel. Polity is the shape the gospel gives to our relationships with each other. It shapes your understanding of who you are and how you relate to everyone else calling themselves a Christian. It empowers and constrains. It trains and it disciplines. It pushes us down the path of gospel righteousness while putting up guardrails along the sides.

The trouble is, too many evangelicals have decided that the Bible doesn’t address how to build, grow, lead, and live as local churches. That’s one reason we’ve become pragmatists. In effect, we supplant God’s wisdom with our own. Which is when things start to fall apart. Accountability breaks down, as does discipline. Authority and leadership assume ungodly shapes and sizes. Men demand what they shouldn’t. Women respond in kind. We redefine sin and make our peace treaties with it. Love becomes whatever the culture tells us it, not what Jesus says it is. On and on I could go.

I said at the beginning of this article that the sails of Cosper’s series caught the winds of a growing existential angst over complementarianism and Calvinism, abuse and authority. After all, so many celebrity pastors have fallen. So many reports of abuse and coverup. #MeToo has grown into #ChurchToo. Politics and protests have divided churches. Christian friends, rocked by all these political divisions and moral scandals, have “deconstructed” their faith. I don’t believe every social-media-led charge of scandal has been right or just. Not at all. False accusations will accompany the true, and always have. Still, my 9Marksy response to all the Twitter and Facebook fireworks through a decade of political, moral, and deconstructing turmoil, of which Cosper’s podcast series provides only one illustration, is: what else did you expect?

We’ve reaped what we’ve sown. A house full of undisciplined children will leave a mess behind. Progressive Christians argue all the failures and abuses should cause us to rethink our doctrines—from our views on men and women to our views on the atonement. Conservative Christians, in response, get understandably defensive, but then don’t offer another explanation because pragmatism blinds us, too. And my point is not that bad polity and pragmatism are the source of all our woes. Yet at the risk of being the man with a hammer for whom everything looks like a nail, here is 9Marks, once again, waving the ecclesiology flag, pleading with folks, have you considered your polity? Your ecclesiology? And, inside that, the character of your leaders and members both?

On the one hand, biblically faithful churches and leaders will stumble and stray. Let’s admit it. Just last week I learned of another pastor acquaintance of an otherwise biblically faithful church who stumbled. Lord, preserve us each of us. On the other hand, we make it worse for ourselves when we build our churches on human wisdom.

Good ecclesiology and a more biblical complementarianism offer the best correction to what happened at Mars Hill and what is happening in so many evangelical churches.

Churches and leaders should worry less about bare numbers and more about biblical faithfulness, knowing that faithfulness produces the greatest numbers over time. They should cultivate leaders of good character and congregations who live and love as families.

Congregationalism requires elders to train and equip their members toward maturity by modelling Christ-like lives, lest those congregations wield the keys foolishly. Faithful elders, faithful church. Unfaithful elders, unfaithful church. Congregational rule should also temper and checks authoritarian elder leadership. And elder authority, when understood rightly, is an inviting, winsome, patient, and beautiful picture of one who stands at the door and knocks, bears the heavier yoke, and even lays down his life for the sheep.

By Jonathan Leeman

Tuesday, January 25, 2022

How to Survive the First 5 Years of Church Planting

From TGC . . . 

Five years ago today, Cross Community Church was born. Almost anyone who has been involved in church planting knows the significance of that five-year mark. In an age of short pastoral tenures and ministry burnout, I don’t take a single day for granted.
We’re a generation in desperate need of healthy churches led by healthy shepherds, and the habits we establish in the first five years of ministry can make or break us for decades to come. In light of this great need, I want to offer 10 keys for surviving, by God’s grace, the first five years of church planting.
1. Vibrant Devotional Life
More than dynamic, engaging exegesis, the very best gift you can give your church is a heart fully alive and satisfied in Jesus Christ, burning with passion for the glory of his name. 
Pastor, seek the Lord daily. Seek him in his Word. Seek him in prayer. Seek him in fasting, silence, and solitude. As George Muller once remarked of his own devotional life, make it your “first great and primary business” every day to have a soul that is “happy in the Lord.”
2. Healthy Home
In year one, I heard Ray Ortlund say: “A minister’s marriage is as important as his preaching of the gospel, because the minister’s marriage is a preaching of the gospel.”
Marriage is the gospel in motion. When we fail to attend to our first ministry (the family), we disqualify ourselves from our second ministry (the church). Pastors, make it a goal for your family to love Christ’s church because you’re a pastor. It requires great intentionality, but give your best time and energy to your home.
3. Faithful Friends
Jesus had friends. Paul had friends. Charles Spurgeon had friends. But sadly, too many pastors have too few friends—or none at all.
Pastor, you need friends who encourage you, challenge you, and hold you accountable. You need friends who are thoroughly unimpressed with you, and with whom you can spend three hours without talking about “ministry.” Church planting can be a lonely, discouraging journey—you won’t survive long without friends.
4. Regular Rest
Without question, church planting requires a willingness to work hard. But we must realize that a need for rest doesn’t make us lazy, it makes us human.
Pastor, guard your day off. Turn off your phone, take a nap, eat good food, watch a movie, read a good book, or indulge in a hobby. And most of all, make sure you feel zero guilt. In Christ, we labor from our rest, not for our rest. Remember the principle of sabbath, and keep it very holy.
5. Discipline and Boundaries
Develop a sustainable rule of life and follow it. The early days of a new church can be unpredictable and chaotic, and if you don’t take control of your schedule, then everyone else will. Sit down with your spouse and key leaders, on a consistent basis, to discuss your schedule and obligations. Know your limits and be willing to say “no.” Honor the commitments you make, and don’t take on more than you can sustain.
6. Leadership Development
“Lone ranger” ministry isn’t just unhealthy, it’s unbiblical. Sadly, many church planters unwittingly make themselves the central focus of the church and a barrier to congregational health by failing to appoint other elders and leaders.
Pastor, you simply cannot thrive in ministry by carrying the burden alone. Raise up leaders, recognize them, and celebrate them. Be willing to delegate significant responsibility, and invite others to share the burden of major decisions.
7. Guarded Study Time
The relentless demands of church planting make protected study time a challenge. Almost no one will demand that you protect this time, so you will have to preserve it.
Build study time into your calendar and resolve to keep it uninterrupted. Communicate that time slot to other leaders, to your congregation, and to your family. An effective ministry of the Word requires adequate time to prepare.
8. Intentional Simplicity
Desiring to make an immediate difference, new church plants tend to be magnets for busyness—and it’s one of the biggest threats to the health of a young church. If you’re not careful, you’ll quickly become overextended across a landscape of half-baked ministry initiatives. Before planting, work with your team to develop a clear framework for determining which types of ministry initiatives will, and will not, make the cut during the first five years—and stick to it.
9. Healthy Membership Process
One of the best ways to set a trajectory for church health is by developing a strong membership process. Ideally, this class or series of meetings will be an environment in which you explain the church’s beliefs, governance, mission, vision, values, and strategy, and you teach the biblical foundations for membership. Conduct interviews in which prospective members can articulate their understanding of the gospel and their personal testimony. When appropriate, recommend other faithful churches, and joyfully send the Lord’s people to advance his kingdom elsewhere.
10. Perseverance and Endurance
At times, church planting can feel impossible and paralyzing. The relentless attacks of the Enemy are distracting and discouraging. People will “ghost” you and leave. Some will slander you, your family, your motives, and the church you’re doing your best to lead. You’ll grow tired and weary. You may lose some close friends. There will be days when you’ll fail and be tempted to give up. Pastor, don’t. He who called you is faithful, and he will see you through.
As my dad once wrote to me in a letter, “When you stand alone, you never stand alone, for God stands with you.” You’re not alone, so stay the course. For me, it’s five years down and, Lord willing, 35 to go. By God’s grace and in the strength of his Spirit, let’s minister long.

Taylor Burgess serves as lead pastor of Cross Community Church in Beaufort, South Carolina, where he lives with his wife, Emily, and their three young boys. He is a student at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary, where he is pursuing a DMin in expository preaching. You can follow him on Twitter.

Friday, December 31, 2021

Pastors Should Have Friends in Church. Do They?

I was told by a leader at the seminary I went to during a chapel that pastors should not have friends in the church they pastor. It did not sit well with me at the time and never has. It has been challenging at times as all relationships can be. Here is a good article from TGC. . . 

Before podcasts and blogs there was radio, and Paul Harvey was one of its iconic voices. Harvey brought an idyllic voice and a distinct delivery to his listeners for nearly 60 years. Each episode featured a mixture of news, commentary, and human-interest stories that not only informed but entertained.

Of particular interest to me were his five-minute broadcasts called “The Rest of the Story.” These small historical vignettes often offered a surprise ending, and he would close with his trademark “And now you know—the rest of the story.”

These words came to mind as my wife and I reflected on my article, “Yes, Pastors Should Have Friends in the Church.” I believe and stand by what I wrote, but now — for the rest of the story.

Pastoral Ministry Can Be Lonely

Yes, pastors and their wives should have close friends within the church, but this doesn’t mean they will. Such a sentence is hard to write; it is an even harder reality to face. Friendships within the church are so often difficult for pastors and their families. The loneliness is even enough to drive some to despair.

Friendships within the church are so often difficult for pastors and their families.

It is difficult to separate the person from the position. While specific reasons may vary, the root of loneliness often results from the inability (often unintentionally) of pastors and congregants to separate the person from the position. This reality manifests in the life of the pastor’s wife as well.

Every random encounter, lunch appointment, coffee meeting, and extracurricular event falls under the umbrella of the pastor-member relationship. Most of these encounters inevitably lead to conversations circling back to the church—its business, its programs, its politics. Such conversations then become brick and mortar for Jericho-like walls, hindering the development of genuine friendship.

Let’s not confuse church talk, however, with discussing the chosen, adopted, forgiven, and gathered people who have been lavished with God’s grace and united together in Christ. There is a difference between discussing the business of the church and discussing Jesus and his bride. Solely discussing the institution, while necessary at times, can be spiritually draining and can alienate us from the possibility of genuine friendship by establishing a person-position dichotomy.

For members of a congregation, the pastor may be seen as a professional expected to fill a position, not a person to be truly seen (much less befriended). Conversations about Jesus and his work in people, on the other hand, provide life-giving energy, foster spiritual intimacy, and deepen the unity we share in Christ. Conversations centered on these truths provide the foundation for friendship established on the person of Christ, not the profession of the pastor.

Close Friendships Aren’t Certain

Friendships come with various levels of intimacy. Some will only scratch the surface, while others will flourish as a result of common interests, shared desires, and mutual trust. While every level of friendship is important, few will provide the depth so many of us seek.

The church a pastor is called to serve may not meet his or his family’s longing for deep friendship, but this doesn’t mean his congregation doesn’t care. Nor does this mean friendships cannot exist within the church. Your church family may simply be unable to meet your personal longings for friendship. Should this occur, we as pastors must be careful not to project our frustrations as their failures.

Your church family may simply be unable to meet your personal longings for friendship.

Rather, may we give God thanks for the friendships he has provided. May we ask the Lord to provide the desires of our heart, but recognize he may not answer in the way we expect.

Perhaps he desires for us to acknowledge the relationships he’s graciously provided so that they may be intentionally nurtured, fostered, and developed. Perhaps our desire for close friendships will not be met through one or two persons, but rather through the collective membership of the body.

Jesus Sticks Closer

As the author of Proverbs writes, “A man of many companions may come to ruin, but there is a friend who sticks closer than a brother” (Prov. 18:24). Jesus is this friend. He is the one who knows and is able to meet our deepest longings. Plain and simple, Jesus is enough.

God will always provide exactly what we need, when we need it. Let’s fight against our tendency to build relational walls that stand in the way of receiving his blessing. Let’s not expect the church to provide the intimacy and validation only Jesus can provide. After all, it is our vertical relationship with him that enables friendships with others to flourish.

Thursday, December 16, 2021

When Members Leave: How Pastors Can Guard Their Hearts

Over the years I have experienced both pain and numbness to people leaving. Here is some helpful advice.

After the presbytery of local pastors interviewed me for ordination, each member offered a word of counsel. Always preach the Word. Be a holy man. Someone else told me, “Don’t get close to your people.” While no one corrected him, the Holy Spirit set off alarm bells in my heart. His comment exposed his own raw nerves and wounds that cut deeply into his life, leaving him cynical about pastoral ministry. At the time, I was young, a long way from spiritual maturity, and hadn’t served as a lead pastor. But I knew I couldn’t shepherd people without having them in my heart.

One paradigm will not fit every church-and-pastor relationship. Personalities, interests, and styles, coupled with doctrine, methods, and change, sometimes unsettle the church atmosphere. Yet the Lord gives the appropriate prescription for each. It’s found in the ample “one another” passages, reminding us of the battle to maintain harmony and faithfulness in the local church. We’re all called to faithfully love, accept, encourage, and show kindness to one another (John 13:35Rom. 15:71 Thess. 5:11Eph. 4:32).

I could not shepherd people without having them in my heart.

Amid this, the Devil throws strained attitudes, disharmony, apathy, discontent, and a host of fiery darts (Eph. 6:10–20). Add the world’s influence, social media’s massive footprint among members to foment greener-pasture sentiments, low views of the church, even lower views of pastoral ministry, and the dangerous substitution of “online church,” and a recipe for discouragement is served. In this kind of atmosphere, Jesus Christ calls pastors to shepherd the flock (Acts 20:281 Pet. 5:2). He added no caveats to “shepherd.”

Over the years, I’ve experienced painful times of members departing. Some disagreed theologically. Others left simply because a friend left. Some preferred other churches’ ministries. Still others changed jobs and relocated elsewhere. Whatever the reason, people I loved and served, whose fellowship I enjoyed, with whom I had laughed and cried, left. At times they left in rapid succession; other times a dribble here and there. How could I keep giving my heart to people who might not stay?

Regain Equilibrium

When members leave, it’s easy to feel you’ve been spun in a centrifuge. You’re dizzy, wondering, hurting, at a loss. Yet Jesus called you to shepherd the flock he purchased by his own blood (Acts 20:28). Shepherding calls for close contact, ground-level exposure to the flock. You cannot shepherd them without being close to them. Yet being close to them may mean being hurt once again. Vulnerability accompanies pastoral ministry. Yes, you will be hurt—again. Sometimes it’s your closest friends who abandon you—I know about that personally and so does Jesus.

How could I keep giving my heart to pastor people who may not stay?

How do you regain equilibrium? When the seventy put their joy in ministry success, Jesus told them not to rejoice in it, “but rejoice that your names are written in heaven.” Find your joy in Jesus, not in your ministry (Luke 10:17–20). If your joy is fixed on him, then even fickleness in the flock, although hurtful, will not daunt your courage to continue pastoring those under your charge. Keep your heart warmed on him.

It’s the Lord’s Ministry; Don’t Lose Heart

While we often use the personal pronoun “my” to refer to our ministries, they really belong to our Lord. Although Paul witnessed the pain of departures and opposition, he also spoke of ministry as being received from the Lord. He didn’t create it. Jesus did. For that reason, he could write, “We do not lose heart” (2 Cor. 4:1–6).

He did not lose heart because, despite difficulties and struggles, he knew God finds pleasure in the preaching of Jesus Christ’s gospel. In other words, Paul realized (maybe he struggled to reach this point) that ministry was not about him or his performance or even his comfort. It was about preaching Christ faithfully, then relying on the Lord to work and accomplish his redemptive purposes.

But what happens when some who’ve received the Word through our ministries leave? It may be through painful exits of those we’ve loved and invested our lives in that the Lord has a work to accomplish in us.

One rash of departures showed me how much I wanted the congregation’s approval instead of the Lord’s. I needed that radical, inward change in disposition to endure long term in ministry. He may deepen dependence on him. He may teach us to love unconditionally. He may strip away vestiges of self-importance we didn’t realize lurked under the surface. He may order suffering so that we more faithfully empathize with those we shepherd.

It’s his ministry. Don’t lose heart. The Good Shepherd knows you.

Serve the Flock Entrusted to You

The remaining members who didn’t leave need your attentive shepherding. You can become easily distracted by departures. Your mind can become paralyzed, absorbed with those who left, and unconsciously miss out on the joy of pastoring. The congregation suffers, too, from a less-than-focused pastor. When the multitudes left, Jesus did not blink (John 6). Even some numbered as his disciples left, grumbling in the process. Jesus relied on the Father’s sovereign purposes, even in the departures (John 6:65). Without hesitation or complaint, he kept shepherding those who remained.

A rash of departures showed me how much I wanted the congregation’s approval instead of the Lord’s.

I don’t minimize the pain of people leaving the church. Years ago, during a three-year period about 65 percent of our congregation left. It was hard. But I learned good lessons, and out of it, grew closer to those who remained. We picked up the pieces and moved ahead, much stronger in Christ, humbler about ministry, and more confident in the wise providence of the Lord. I learned to keep pastoring, keep giving myself to others in service, and keep trusting the Lord with the pains along the way.

Overlook Offenses

Just as we encourage our congregation members to be quick to overlook offenses, we must overlook them too (Prov. 19:11). Bitterness over those wounding you—intentionally or not—will only intensify. Instead, in love, you can cover the sins done to you (1 Pet. 4:8). As you do so, pray—not with imprecatory pleas but with grace.

I grew close to a brother who, along with his family, attended our church the day we began. He became a leader, encourager, and friend. He was the first church member to visit the hospital right after our fourth child’s birth. One day he came in to tell me he was leaving. His reason: “You know I like to be around successful things; and this is not successful. I’m leaving.”

That was it. Ten years brushed off in a moment. God gave me the grace to forgive him and keep praying for him. In subsequent years, I’ve had opportunities to minister to his family. He’s reached out to encourage me. He had no biblical reason to leave. But he did. With that, I learned not to dwell on the past but press on with grace and kindness.

None of these practices comes naturally. Instead, they overflow from learning to find our deepest satisfaction in Jesus. While much joy can be found in serving our church members, he far exceeds what a church member can give us. We can easily expect more from them than God intends us to receive.

Shepherd the flock. Keep them in your heart. All the while, find that Jesus is enough.

Tuesday, December 14, 2021

Driscoll, Schaeffer, and Packer on the Size of Your Church and the Idolatry of Your Heart

Must read for every driven ministry leader from Justin Taylor at TGC. I have just finished The Rise and Fall of Mars Hill.  Well worth listening to by every ministry leader also . . .   

Mark Driscoll, from a sermon in 2006, eight years before he abandoned the church discipline process from his elders, resigned the church after ostensibly hearing from God, and eventually saw Mars Hill Church dissolve completely:

I’m a guy who is highly competitive.

Every year, I want the church to grow.

I want my knowledge to grow.

I want my influence to grow.

I want our staff to grow.

I want our church plants to grow.

I want everything—because I want to win.

I don’t want to just be where I’m at.

I don’t want anything to be where it’s at.

And so for me it is success and drivenness and it is productivity and it is victory that drives me constantly.

I—that’s my own little idol and it works well in a church because no one would ever yell at you for being a Christian who produces results.

So I found the perfect place to hide.

And I was thinking about it this week.

What if the church stopped growing?

What if we shrunk?

What if everything fell apart?

What if half the staff left?

Would I still worship Jesus or would I be a total despairing mess?

I don’t know.

By God’s grace, I won’t have to find out, but you never know.

Francis Schaeffer:

As there are no little people in God’s sight, so there are no little places. . . .  Nowhere more than in America are Christians caught in the twentieth-century syndrome of size. Size will show success. If I am consecrated, there will necessarily be large quantities of people, dollars, etc.

This is not so.

Not only does God not say that size and spiritual power go together, but He even reverses this (especially in the teaching of Jesus) and tells us to be deliberately careful not to choose a place too big for us. We all tend to emphasize big works and big places, but all such emphasis is of the flesh. To think in such terms is simply to hearken back to the old, unconverted, egoist, self-centered Me. This attitude, taken from the world, is more dangerous to the Christian than fleshly amusement or practice. It is the flesh.

—Francis Schaeffer, No Little People (Downers Grove, IL: IVP, 1974), 18.

J. I. Packer:

I have found that churches, pastors, seminaries, and parachurch agencies throughout North America are mostly playing the numbers game—that is, defining success in terms of numbers of heads counted or added to those that were there before.

Church-growth theorists, evangelists, pastors, missionaries, news reporters, and others all speak as if

(1) numerical increase is what matters most;

(2) numerical increase will surely come if our techniques and procedures are right;

(3) numerical increase validates ministries as nothing else does;

(4) numerical increase must be everyone’s main goal.

He detects four “unhappy consequences” of these assumptions:

First, big and growing churches are viewed as far more significant than others.

Second, parachurch specialists who pull in large numbers are venerated, while hard-working pastors are treated as near-nonentities.

Third, lively laymen and clergy too are constantly being creamed off from the churches to run parachurch ministries, in which, just because they specialize on a relatively narrow front, quicker and more striking results can be expected.

Fourth, many ministers of not-so-bouncy temperament and not-so-flashy gifts return to secular employment in disillusionment and bitterness, concluding that the pastoral life of steady service is a game not worth playing.

Packer then offers his assessment:

In all of this I seem to see a great deal of unmortified pride, either massaged, indulged, and gratified, or wounded, nursed, and mollycoddled. Where quantifiable success is god, pride always grows strong and spreads through the soul as cancer sometimes gallops through the body.

Shrinking spiritual stature and growing moral weakness thence result, and in pastoral leaders, especially those who have become sure they are succeeding, the various forms of abuse and exploitation that follow can be horrific.

Orienting all Christian action to visible success as its goal, a move which to many moderns seems supremely sensible and businesslike, is thus more a weakness in the church than its strength; it is a seedbed both of unspiritual vainglory for the self-rated succeeders and of unspiritual despair for the self-rated failures, and a source of shallowness and superficiality all round.

The way of health and humility is for us to admit to ourselves that in the final analysis we do not and cannot know the measure of our success the way God sees it. Wisdom says: leave success ratings to God, and live your Christianity as a religion of faithfulness rather than an idolatry of achievement.

—J. I. Packer, A Passion for Faithfulness: Wisdom from the Book of Nehemiah (Wheaton: Crossway, 1995), 207–209.

(Packer says that he would like to see Kent and Barbara Hughes’ book, Liberating Ministry from the Success Syndrome, “made required reading for every pastoral aspirant.”)