Friday, February 28, 2014

Mark Batterson has some good thoughts on pastoring and leadership.  Stop looking at the big guys and start shepherding your people.

Behind my desk hangs a large photograph of a cow pasture in Alexandria, Minnesota. That’s where I felt called to full-time ministry during a prayer walk when I was nineteen years old. That’s my burning bush. When I get frustrated or discouraged, I spin my chair and look at that photo. It’s a constant reminder of why I do what I do. It’s also a reminder of who called me. I may get a paycheck from National Community Church, but I work for the King and His Kingdom.

Regardless of church governance, you are not called by a church board, senior pastor, or denominational leader. You are called by God. And for the record, he’s the only one who can un-call you. You can get fired, or get burned, by a human employer, but they cannot un-call you.

Let me share seven hard-lessons I've learned about calling...

1. Live for the Applause of Nail-Scarred Hands.
If you live for popular opinion, you’ll have as many ups and downs as the Dow Jones Industrial average. You can please some of the people all of the time, all of the people some of the time, but you cannot please all the people all the time. Deal with it.

2. Think Long.
If you’re going to dream big you better think long. You also better pray hard. God doesn’t call us to start strong, as much as He calls us to finish well. It’s not about what you’re doing as much as who you’re becoming. Before God can grow a ministry He needs to grow you. So stay humble and stay hungry!

3. Thou Shalt Offend Pharisees.
I believe pastors are called to comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable. And the second-half of the job description is harder than the first-half. It’s your job to challenge the status quo. If you aren’t being criticized then you probably aren’t doing anything that is truly making a difference. One thing is certain: Jesus didn’t shy away from the Pharisees. Stop and think about it, he could have healed the man with the withered arm on any day of the week but he chose the Sabbath. Why? I think he wanted to confront their hypocrisy. He also knew it would be a lot more fun.

4. Don't Play the Comparison Game.
That’s what got Saul into trouble. He kept a jealous eye on David. If you compare yourself to other leaders, you can always find a favorable or unfavorable comparison. One road leads to jealousy. The other road leads to pride. But both roads lead to a dead-end in ministry.

5. Be Yourself
When I first started out in ministry, I was trying to be a pastor. Now I’m trying to be myself. And there is a world of difference. God gave you a personality! Use it. Use it in your preaching, in your counseling, in your staff meetings. National Community Church has to have one of the highest laugh-per-meeting ratios of any church in the country. Why? Because we don’t hire people who don’t laugh at my jokes! And I’m not kidding. Life is too short and ministry is too hard not to laugh together.

6. Get a Life.
If your sermons are boring, it’s probably because your life is boring. For too many in ministry, church becomes the end-all and be-all. They have no life outside the four ways of the church. My advice? Coach your kid’s team. Get involved in the PTO. Cultivate friendships with people who you do not pastor. Pick up a new hobby. Don’t just get a sermon, get a life!

7. Your Primary Ministry Isn’t to People.
As a priest, your primary ministry is to God. I’ve learned that if I spend too much time with people, I add very little value to their lives. If you try to be all things to all people, you’ll end up being nothing to nobody! Spend more time with God than you do with people—in His word, in His presence. That’s how you stay centered, stay balanced, and stay motivated. That’s also how you decrease so He can increase. And that’s the ultimate objective—to make His name famous, not yours!

I promised seven hard-evened lessons, but let me throw in a bonus.


Please don’t misinterpret what I’m saying. Do your homework! But if you wait until you are ready to pursue God’s calling, you’ll be waiting the rest of your life. Why? Because you’ll never be ready! You’ll never have enough education, enough resources, or enough experience. One of our mantras at NCC is this: Go. Set. Ready. When God gives us a green light, we go for it.

Prior to becoming Lead Pastor of NCC, I had one failed church plant and one summer internship on my resume. That’s it. I was totally under-qualified, but I knew God was calling me. So I answered. But even with seventeen years under my belt, I still feel like a nineteen year-old kid in a cow pasture called by God.

Mark Batterson, New York Times Bestselling Author of The Circle Maker and Lead Pastor of National Community Church in Washington, DC

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Do You Feel Tension in the Christian Life?

For anyone who has struggled with the tension of salvation started but not complete in this life.
Guest Blogger: Jason Helopoulos
The Christian life can feel schizophrenic. It isn’t hard to recognize that there are numerous tensions filling the Christian life. Some find this exhilarating. However, many of us find that these tensions are a cause of discouragement, despair, hopelessness, and depression. We look at our lives and they are not what we want them to be. We see that:
These tensions are real. However, this isn’t because Christianity is schizophrenic. These are good and necessary tensions; and they shouldn’t lead to discouragement, despair, hopelessness, or depression. If you are experiencing these tensions of the Christian life, there is a reason: you are a pilgrim on the way. In fact, you are only a sojourner in this land with eyes that have been set upon the “celestial city.” As Christians, we are caught in the in-between.  As has become a common refrain (and Jesus alludes to in His high priestly prayer), “We are in this world, but not of this world.” We have one foot on earth and one firmly anchored in heaven.
When we begin to fully understand that we are but pilgrims in this world, these tensions become avenues of sweetness rather than despair. Ultimately, they point us to what we shall be some day.
As 1 John 3:2 says, “Beloved, we are God’s children now, and what we will be has not yet appeared; but we know that when he appears we shall be like him, because we shall see Him as He is.” On that day all the tensions in our lives will finally cease. The sinner will fully be transformed into a saint, our peace will be complete, our love will be perfected, sin will no longer be at hand, and our faith shall be sight. And how do we know that this day will be a reality? Surely, some of the greatest signs are the tensions we experience in the present. We are enjoying an appetizer of the benefits of eternity now. The eschaton has broken in.
The positive side of these tensions are a bright neon flashing promise that this future day shall come. Rather than lead us to despair, these tensions should lead us to hope. Come quickly Lord Jesus.

Monday, February 24, 2014


A helpful article by Matt Perlman.
It is fascinating that when you study the most effective individuals throughout history, you see the same theme coming back again and again in how each of them managed their time. The key was focus and concentration on a few very significant priorities, always keeping in mind what is centrally important at the moment (that is, what’s best next).
We see this especially in Winston Churchill. Here’s how Steven Hayward very effectively summarizes Churchill’s approach in Churchill on Leadership: Executive Success in the Face of Adversity:
Despite his wide-ranging attention and interests, he always kept in mind what was centrally important to the moment. He was always able to focus his full concentration on the immediate task at hand, and he sent clear signals to his subordinates when an inquiry or directive was of special importance. “When his mind was occupied with any particular problem,” Sir Ian Jacob wrote, “it was relentlessly focused upon it and would not be turned aside.” Ultimately this served as thecornerstone of his time-management system. 
….His general method of work…was to concentrate his personal attention on the two or three things that mattered most at any given moment, and to give to each of these all the time and attention that it merited.
This is the same observation Peter Drucker made about effective executives in the midst of his 50 years of observing them: “Effective executives put first things first, and do one thing at a time.” That’s the key.
Note one misunderstanding we can fall into, however, about what it means to focus on a few core priorities. It doesn’t mean that you are getting less done and doing fewer things overall. Rather, it means you are doing more things overall. That’s why you do one thing at a time — precisely because you have so many things that need to be done. Hence, you focus on one thing at a time because “doing one thing at a time means doing it fast. The more one can concentrate time, effort, and resources, the greater the number and diversity of tasks one can actually perform” (Drucker, The Effective Executive).
So the key is you identify that which is centrally important, and work on that all the way until it’s done. Then you work on the next thing of central importance until it is done. And so forth. (And, of course, above all of these and governing the choices you make about what to do next are just a few, overall, chief goals for the current quarter or year or season.) Drucker summarizes this well:
Effective executives know that they have to get many things done — and done effectively. Therefore, they concentrate — their own time and energy as well as that of their organization — on doing one thing at a time, and on doing first things first.

Friday, February 21, 2014

The Biggest Challenge Facing the Church Today

Free eBook! Led: Going With The Spirit

Jesus’ last promise was a lasting one–power from the Spirit to effectively reach people through a clear witness (Acts 1:8). This offer is not just for extroverts or cool churches. Every disciple and church can exponentially increase their impact when they understand and prioritize “Spirit-led” ministry. In this eBook, pastor and author Larry Walkemeyer explores Gal. 5:25: “Since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit. “Going” with the gospel is good. “Going” with the gospel, led by the Spirit, is far better, he writes, asserting that Christians are often unproductive in evangelism because they are unresponsive to the Spirit. Through insightful, scriptural teaching and relevant true stories, Led imparts vital principles of “tuning into the Spirit”; opening doors for the gospel through Spirit-led prayer; journeying through each day with “two ears open”; and stepping out in “power beyond our own.” Walkemeyer invites us into the gospel adventures of living “led.”

Key highlights:

  • Inspiring real-life stories of how individuals and churches (including introverted people and churches) have engaged the Spirit to be more effective and in some cases, bold, witnesses to the gospel in both word and actions
  • What we can do to become “leadable” for the sake of reaching those without Christ
  • Why some of our lack of effectiveness in winning the world is due to trying hard without praying hard, being creative without being truly compassionate and reaching out in self-reliance instead of Spirit empowerment
  • Four sequential kinds of power the Spirit imparts to disciples and churches serious about being reaching others who don’t have Christ
  • Biblical and modern-day examples of how Spirit-led prayer unlocks deadbolted doors for the spread of the gospel
  • Five guideposts for hearing the Spirit’s voice throughout the day as we seek to be witnesses to His gospel
  • How we can live out the promised “power to witness” of Acts 1:8
  • Seven ways we can ask the Spirit to empower us to step out in “power beyond our own”

Download here.

Building A Thriving, Productive Culture in Your Church

You’ve heard it said that culture starts at the top and works it’s way down. I couldn’t agree more. And yet, after years of working with and around pastors, listening to their greatest concerns, I know it’s easy to get stuck feeling disappointed about culture, without really understanding what you can do to change it.

“The church just isn’t very generous.”

“Nobody ever wants to volunteer.”

“People are flaky—I never know if they’re going to show up on Sunday.”

Is it possible the culture of your church reflects the culture of your heart? Is it possible to turn the misdirected ship around?

How can you build a thriving, productive culture in your church?

Focus on the positive.

This is one of the most difficult things to do, not just as a pastor, but as a human. It comes so much more naturally to see what needs to be fixed, and focus your attention there. But just as with anything, focusing on the negative makes you miss the positive and invites more of the negative to exist.

Tell your congregation, or your team, what you love about them, what you think they do really well. Focus on how you can leverage these strengths, and grow them.

Chances are, as you focus on the positive traits, they’ll begin to overshadow the not-so-positive ones.

Encourage more than correct.

There are definitely moments when your entire group, or certain people in it, need to be corrected: when there is a serious moral issue, or when a particular conflict or topic is distracting you from the mission and vision God has given you.

But encourage more than you correct.

Think of how Paul writes the letters to the Corinthians or Ephesians. He always starts with “grace,” “peace,” and thankfulness for the ability to serve that particular group of people.

By the time he gets to the issues he needs to correct, he’s already put some encouraging words “in the bank” to strengthen the relationship.

Model your words after his.

Focus on the positive, speak it out loud, and when needed, you’ll have gained the relationship capitol to speak the truth in love.

Take ownership for the culture.

This is the hardest part to accept for most leaders because, no matter how many mistakes you’ve made, the negative culture it isn’t all your fault. You can’t control people. You can’t predict how they will act.

But, while it isn’t your fault, it is your responsibility. God has entrusted this community to you and asked you to care for his flock.

If you don’t take ownership to change the culture, who will?

Taking ownership means you must quit complaining about what’s wrong. Complaining is a waste of time and energy. Instead, seek solutions. Implement them. Teach people. Change yourself. The negative culture is not all your fault, but over time the attitude of those who are following you will be a reflection of how you’re leading.

How and where do you want to lead? Be intentional to take people there.

Pray and ask for wisdom.

If you aren’t sure what you’re doing or where you’re going, don’t worry. If you can’t pinpoint the exact problem, or you can, but you aren’t sure how to solve it, you’re in good company. Every person God has ever used for his purposes throughout history has felt completely out of his or her element at some point.

God’s calling should be humbling.

Thankfully, the Bible says (James 1:5) that if you lack wisdom, all you have to do is ask God, and he will give it to you. That’s all you have to do—ask!

Don’t neglect this simple, but completely vital aspect to creating a God-honoring culture at your church. God himself. Pray and ask for wisdom, and then lead boldly knowing he’s taking you exactly where you ought to go.

photo credit: swanksalot

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Donald Miller’s prescription for spiritual suicide

This guy, Denny Burk, is spot on.  There is so much bad teaching, if you can really call it that, that freely rolls of the lips of misguided, at the least or deceived at the worst, professing Christians.
I just read a rather stunning admission from Donald Miller. In a short blog post, he says that his learning style is not conducive for learning in traditional worship services. He doesn’t “connect” with God in singing praises or in listening to the preached word. On the contrary, he feels most connected to God when he is working to “build his company.” As a result of all this, he makes this confession:
So, do I attend church? Not often, to be honest. Like I said, it’s not how I learn. But I also believe the church is all around us, not to be confined by a specific tribe. I’m fine with where I’ve landed and finally experiencing some forward momentum in my faith. I worship God every day through my work. It’s a blast.
I don’t know what else to say except that this is profoundly disappointing. Not only that, it’s also dangerous. It’s a recipe for spiritual suicide. I am not denying that people have different learning styles. I am denying that different learning styles in any way trump what God has said to us about His church. The scripture is very clear that the local church is the matrix for Christian discipleship. In short, you cannot be a follower of Jesus and be indifferent about the church.
It is very clear that Miller’s view of the church differs markedly from what we find in scripture. For him, the church is not defined by the preaching of the word and the right administration of the ordinances (e.g., Acts 2:42). Instead, the church is amorphous, “all around us, not to be confined by a specific tribe.” How different this is from the way that the Bible speaks of the church as local bodies of believers “who have been sanctified in Christ Jesus, saints by calling, with all who in every place call upon the name of our Lord Jesus Christ” (1 Cor. 1:2). God is omnipresent, but the church is not. If you are not with a gathered community, you are not at church—despite Miller’s claim that the church is “all around us.”
But more than that, Miller’s aversion to gathering with God’s people goes directly against explicit commands and exemplars in scripture:
“And let us not neglect our meeting together, as some people do, but encourage one another, especially now that the day of his return is drawing near.” -Hebrews 10:25
“Speak to one another with psalms, hymns and spiritual songs. Sing and make music in your heart to the Lord, always giving thanks to God the Father for everything, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.” -Ephesians 5:19-20
“Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom, and as you sing psalms, hymns and spiritual songs with gratitude in your hearts to God.” -Colossians 3:16
The New Testament pattern for gathered worship seems to involve a meeting on the first day of the week—Sunday (e.g., Acts 20:71 Cor. 16:2Rev. 1:10). It involves the people of God coming together to enjoy the apostle’s teaching, fellowship, prayer, and the breaking of bread (Acts 2:42). Gathering with God’s people like this isn’t an optional add-on to following Christ. It is part and parcel of being a disciple. To neglect this is to deny the faith altogether. In fact, John describes apostates as those who stop gathering with God’s people:
“They went out from us, but they were not really of us; for if they had been of us, they would have remained with us; but they went out, in order that it might be shown that they all are not of us.” -1 John 2:19
In other words, faithfulness to Christ is not defined by personal piety alone. It is defined in part by persevering in and among God’s people in the church. To walk away from the church is to walk away from Christ.
So yes, I find this statement by Donald Miller to be quite stunning. God has given us everything we need for life and godliness, and a big part of that provision is the fellowship of the church (2 Pet. 1:3). No individual is the pillar and foundation of the truth. Only the church carries that distinction (1 Tim. 3:15). Miller would have you think that neglecting the church is but one of many ways to follow Christ, depending on your learning style. Nothing could be further from the truth, and nothing could be more dangerous to your soul.

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Paul Tripp on Preaching

This is a helpful and practical interview with Paul Tripp, especially for young preachers.

Monday, February 17, 2014

How to Handle Discouragement in Ministry

I remember being in shocked the first time I read about a very prominent and 'successful' pastor talk about his discouragement in ministry.  Every pastor should listen to this video.

How to Handle Discouragement in Ministry from The Gospel Coalition on Vimeo.

Saturday, February 15, 2014

When Someone or Something Throws Your Sin in Your Face

“So when the devil throws your sins in your face and declares that you deserve death and hell, tell him this: ‘I admit that I deserve death and hell, what of it? For I know One who suffered and made satisfaction on my behalf. His name is Jesus Christ, Son of God, and where He is there I shall be also!’” (Martin Luther).

Friday, February 14, 2014

Is Recreational Marijuana Use a Sin?

By Joe Carter.  I hear this argument all the time and tire of Christians making excuses for drinking to get 'silly' and smoking to get a 'buzz.'   To my shame I was reading an article the morning I found this on 'Pot Stocks' to see if there were any potential 'multi bangers' to invest in but decided against it not based on risk but on principle.

Last November, citizens of Colorado voted on Amendment 64, an amendment to their state's constitution that would allow the "personal use and regulation of marijuana" for adults 21 and over, as well as commercial cultivation, manufacture, and sale, effectively regulating cannabis in a manner similar to alcohol. The first stores selling marijuana for recreational use officially opened on January 1, 2014.

A marijuana leaf is displayed at Canna Pi medical marijuana dispensary in SeattleWhile the new legislation applies only to Colorado (Washington state passed a similar measure, though marijuana is still illegal in all other states and at the federal level), Americans across the nation are beginning to examine questions related to the use of marijuana. For Christians, one of the most pertinent questions is whether the recreational use of marijuana is sinful.
Although many Christians consider the answer to the question to be rather straightforward, it can be helpful to examine the reasoning process that allows us to determine how biblical principles can be applied to this issue.
What does the Bible say about marijuana?
Like abortion, nuclear weapons, and many other modern controversies, the Bible does not specifically mention marijuana. However, some defenders of marijuana do appeal to the Bible—indeed, to the very first chapter—to make their case:
And God said, "Behold, I have given you every plant yielding seed that is on the face of all the earth, and every tree with seed in its fruit. You shall have them for food. (Gen. 1:29)
Since marijuana is indeed a seed-bearing plant we can legitimately consider whether God gave it to us for "food." Before we do that, though, we should note how this claim undercuts the most popular form of recreational marijuana use: smoking. There are no other foods—even smoked salmon—that we consume by smoking them. So this defense can only apply to using marijuana that can be constituted as food and consumed in an edible.
Presumably, no one adds marijuana to brownies because it improves their flavor. The reason to add this particular plant to foodstuffs is because of its effect on senses other than taste. However, let's assume that someone really does enjoy and gain some nourishment from eating marijuana leaves. Would that be a sin?
Analogical Reasoning and the Bible
To provide an answer rooted in Scripture and Christian ethics we must use analogical reasoning. In his essay "The Place of Scripture in Christian Ethics," James Gustafson states the commonly accepted method of scriptural analogy:
Those actions of persons and groups are to be judged morally wrong which are similar to actions that are judged to be wrong or against God's will under similar circumstances in Scripture, or are discordant with actions judged to be right or in accord with God's will in Scripture.
While this may seem rather obvious, it raises the question of how we determine whether an action or circumstance is similar to an action judged to be wrong in Scripture. Legal scholarCass Sunstein explains how we apply analogical reasoning:
This kind of thinking has a simple structure: (1) A has characteristic X; (2) B shares that characteristic; (3) A also has characteristic Y; (4) Because A and B share characteristic X, we conclude what is not yet known, that B shares characteristic Y as well.
Is there an analogical action that is judged to be wrong or against God's will that similar to the recreational use of marijuana? Indeed, there is a clear example that is mentioned frequently in the Bible: drunkenness. (At the end of this article are several scriptural references to drunkenness and sobriety.) Drunkenness in the Bible is the state of being intoxicated by alcohol.
A (Intoxication by alcohol ingestion) has characteristic X (produces a psychoactive affect, that is, affects brain function, resulting in alterations in perception, mood, consciousness, cognition, and behavior.)
B (Intoxication by marijuana ingestion) shares that characteristic;
Because A and B share characteristic X, we conclude what is not yet known, that B shares characteristic Y (is an action that is judged to be against God's will, i.e., is sinful).
Reasoning by analogy, we can determine that since it is sinful to become intoxicated by alcohol, it is sinful to become intoxicated by marijuana.
What Constitutes Intoxication?
The analogical argument against recreational marijuana use appears rather incontrovertible. However, the Bible prohibits drunkenness, it does not prohibit all uses of alcohol—even those for recreational purposes. A person can consume small quantities of alcohol without any intention of becoming intoxicated. Can a person consume small quantities of marijuana without any intention of becoming intoxicated?
To answer the question we must determine the average quantity of the drug—alcohol or marijuana—needed to produce the impaired state.
For alcohol, the unit of measure is the "standard drink," that is any drink that contains about 14 grams of pure alcohol (about 0.6 fluid ounces or 1.2 tablespoons). A standard drink is conventionally defined as the alcohol content of 12 ounces of 5 percent-alcohol beer or 5 ounces of 12 percent-alcohol wine or an ounce and half (a shot) of 40 percent-alcohol (80-proof) spirits (hard liquor). In most U.S. states, the legally defined level of intoxication typically occurs, depending on pacing, after four drinks for an average-sized woman or five for an average-sized man.
For marijuana, however, a much lower dosage is needed to induce a state of intoxication. Studies show that intoxication occurs at the ingestion of less than 7 mg of THC (the psychoactive ingredient in marijuana). That is approximately the equivalent to four puffs of a marijuana cigarette.
If the purpose of consuming the marijuana was for nourishment and taste, we would need to eat only an amount that would not cause the intoxicating effect - about 200 mg of marijuana leaves. In theory, then, it could be possible to ingest marijuana with no sinful intentions. But of course, in almost all cases, the recreational use of marijuana is done with the intention of achieving some level of intoxication. And if the intent of the recreational use of marijuana is to achieve some level of intoxication, then it is clearly a sinful motive and action.
A sampling of Bible verses related to drunkenness and sobriety:
Ephesians 5:18 -- "And do not get drunk with wine, for that is debauchery, but be filled with the Spirit, . . ."
Galatians 5:21 -- "Envy, drunkenness, orgies, and things like these. I warn you, as I warned you before, that those who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God."
1 Peter 5:8 -- "Be sober-minded; be watchful."
1 Corinthians 6:10 -- "Nor thieves, nor the greedy, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God."
Proverbs 23:20-21 -- "Be not among drunkards or among gluttonous eaters of meat, for the drunkard and the glutton will come to poverty, and slumber will clothe them with rags."
Proverbs 23:29-35 -- "Who has woe? Who has sorrow? Who has strife? Who has complaining? Who has wounds without cause? Who has redness of eyes? Those who tarry long over wine; those who go to try mixed wine. Do not look at wine when it is red, when it sparkles in the cup and goes down smoothly. In the end it bites like a serpent and stings like an adder. Your eyes will see strange things, and your heart utter perverse things."
Isaiah 5:11 -- "Woe to those who rise early in the morning, that they may run after strong drink, who tarry late into the evening as wine inflames them!"
Hosea 4:11 -- "Whoredom, wine, and new wine, which take away the understanding."
1 Corinthians 5:11 -- "But now I am writing to you not to associate with anyone who bears the name of brother if he is guilty of sexual immorality or greed, or is an idolater, reviler, drunkard, or swindler—not even to eat with such a one."
Isaiah 28:7 -- "These also reel with wine and stagger with strong drink; the priest and the prophet reel with strong drink, they are swallowed by wine, they stagger with strong drink, they reel in vision, they stumble in giving judgment."
Matthew 24:48-49 -- "But if that wicked servant says to himself, 'My master is delayed,' and begins to beat his fellow servants and eats and drinks with drunkards . . ."
Joe Carter is an editor for The Gospel Coalition and the co-author of How to Argue Like Jesus: Learning Persuasion from History's Greatest Communicator. You can follow him onTwitter.

Thursday, February 13, 2014

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

In Praise of Fat Pastors

By Jared Wilson.
Joel-Osteen-Blessed-Six-Pack-AbsSort of.
One of the greatest men my wife and I had the privilege of being shepherded by used to wear his pants very high on his waist. His belt was practically underlining his chest. He looked like a dork, and it was distracting when he stood before the congregation. So one of the creative guys at the church “took one for the team” and took him aside one day to recommend he wear his shirts untucked. He did, and the sight was much better. But what I loved about this pastor is that he had zero idea this was an issue. I mean, I’m sure he thought he looked fine — he wasn’t unkempt, just uncool — but obviously worrying about his image wasn’t even on his radar.
By contrast, I used to see another area pastor at the local coffee shop in the same town who was pushing sixty and was rockin’ — or thought he was — the embroidered jeans, Affliction tees, leather cuffs, and frosted bedhead. Professing to be cool, he became a fool.
In the age of Pastor Fashion and sermons forbidding the eating of pork in service of the gospel of weight loss — I mean, does anything scream “Judaizer” more loudly than preaching the dietary law? except maybe actually preaching circumcision — don’t the pastors who don’t care about their image, their profile, their reputation seem moredignified?
Now, of course this is not to say we should be careless about our bodies and our general health. I have nothing against Joel Osteen (pictured) looking good on the surface; I just have a problem with him preaching there. He is perhaps the West’s most successful purveyor of the paltry. I mean, no matter how much abundance he promises, his gospel is actually the puniest one out there. The love of the superficial will kill the soul, stealing our spiritual oxygen like Ed Young’s spanx. Man looks at the outward appearance, of course, and that’s who these guys fear, that’s whose ears these guys are trying to tickle, that’s who they’re seeking to please. When Paul warns in Philippians 3:19 against those whose god is their belly, it’s just as applicable a warning today about the Crossfit junkie as it is the chocoholic.
The pursuit of the appearance of having it all together is not new. We might have the most advanced whitewash, but you can’t really improve a tomb.
I don’t think you even need me to list all the evidences that American evangelicalism is obsessed with image, with cool, with seeming impressive. What we need are men (and women) who will lead the way in rejecting the Photoshopping of our faith. And wouldn’t it be a huge relief, wouldn’t we all just kinda exhale in relief if we were led in this way to stop sucking in our guts? Our stomach might increase, but wouldn’t we actually decrease in the right ways? Wouldn’t that kind of freedom to breathe — the freedom to simply be ourselves — be a fruit of the gospel?
So no, I am not advocating gluttony here, just a Christward self-disregard, a godly un-self-consciousness. I am praying for an increase in the tribe of self-forgetful pastors — if not all-out dorky ones — with platforms thrust upon them genuinely “aw shucks”-wise, men who will love not their images even unto death. Men who at least are not obsessed with the camera catching their good sides. Give me a fat guy in the pulpit so long as he preaches not himself and not the law but the glorious gospel. And if you’ve got a pastor with washboard abs who does that– well, that’s okay too, I guess.
…He had no form or majesty that we should look at him,
and no beauty that we should desire him.

– Isaiah 53:2

Monday, February 10, 2014

Why I Pray Publicly for Other Churches

Every Sunday morning, I lead the congregation of Third Avenue Baptist Church in a "pastoral prayer." I pray for many things during that time—congregational events, members who are suffering, evangelistic opportunities, various officials in government, missions opportunities, even events in the nation's headlines. The part of the prayer that elicits the most comment, however—both positive and out of sheer confusion—is when I pray for another evangelical church or two meeting in the city of Louisville.

Each week, I choose one or two churches and pray for their services that day. I pray for the church to be attentive to the Word of God. I pray for the pastor to speak boldly and accurately from the Bible. I pray for people to be convicted of their sin, for Christians to be encouraged in the faith, and for non-Christians to be converted. I also thank the Lord that we live in a city where we are not the only church in which the gospel is proclaimed.
Believe it or not, the practice of praying for other churches is so rare in many Christians' experience that many don't know exactly how to process it. More than once during my pastorate, a visitor to Third Avenue has walked up to me with a concerned look to express surprise that such-and-such church is having troubles. After all, why would the pastor of one church pray for another church if there weren't serious problems afoot there?!

Spirit of Competition

There are many benefits to doing this sort of thing week after week. For one thing, it helps me in the work of crucifying my own spirit of competition. It's so easy for pastors to subtly (if not less than subtly) begin to think of other churches as "the competition" instead of as fellow proclaimers of the gospel in their city. I want to go on record, in the most public forum I have, as praying for the success and faithfulness of those churches. We are not in this to make a name for ourselves; we are all in it to make a name for our King.
Not only so, but I think those prayers do the same work of crucifying a spirit of competition in the members of Third Avenue. Pastors are not alone in struggling with feeling competitive with other churches. Members do too, and it's good for them to see their leaders working publicly to counteract that tendency so that it doesn't take root in the life of the church.
Praying for other churches also communicates an important truth about the various churches in a city: We are all on the same team. We all have the same mission, and it's to proclaim the gospel of Jesus and make disciples of him. The last thing we should want as pastors is to communicate a provincial, myopic spirit among our members that recognizes good only in our church, and cannot see what God is doing more broadly. We serve a massive God, and an important way to show that truth to our people and teach them to rejoice in it is to teach them to care about God's work in the lives of other churches.
I have found that praying for other churches also helps me to cultivate friendships with their pastors. It reminds me, week after week, that there are others engaged in this same work that so consumes me each day, and it challenges me to strain against any tendency I might have to isolate myself in the work.
In our church covenant at Third Avenue, one of the promises we make to one another as members is that we will not "omit the great duty of prayer both for ourselves and for others." At its heart, that is a promise that we'll remember not only God's great delight in answering prayer and his unstoppable power to do so, but also the great truth that he is glorifying his Son through the work of churches all over our cities and the world.
Editors' note: This article originally appeared in the May-June 2013 issue of the 9Marks Journal.
Greg Gilbert is the senior pastor of Third Avenue Baptist Church in Louisville, Kentucky. He is the author of What Is the Gospel? (Crossway, 2010) and co-author of What Is the Mission of the Church?: Making Sense of Social Justice, Shalom, and the Great Commission(Crossway, 2011), Preach: Theology Meets Practice (Crossway, 2012), and The Gospel at Work: How Working for King Jesus Gives Purpose and Meaning to Our Jobs (Zondervan, forthcoming).

Saturday, February 8, 2014

I shared a link to a live debate on divine healing and predestination between James White and Michael Brown. Here are the videos.

Friday, February 7, 2014

Has 'Authenticity' Trumped Holiness?

This needs to be read by everyone in their twenties!

In recent years, evangelical Christianity has made its imperfection a point of emphasis. Books were published with titles like Messy Spirituality: God's Annoying Love for Imperfect PeopleDeath by Church and Jesus Wants to Save Christians, and churches popped up with names like Scum of the Earth and Salvage Yard. Evangelicals made films like Lord, Save Us from Your Followers, wrote blog posts with titles like "Dirty, Rotten, Messy Christians," and maintained websites like,, and—a site that includes categories like "A Hot Mess," "Muddling Through," "My Broken Heart," and "My Wreckage."

Meanwhile, self-deprecating humor sites like Stuff Christians Like and Stuff Christian Culture Likes became hugely popular repositories of Christianity's many warts, and writers like Anne Lamott and Donald Miller became best-selling, "non-religious" expositors of messy spirituality.
Evangelicalism—both on the individual and institutional level—is trying hard to purge itself of a polished veneer that smacked of hypocrisy. But by focusing on brokenness as proof of our "realness" and "authenticity," have evangelicals turned "being screwed up" into a badge of honor, its own sort of works righteousness? Has authenticity become a higher calling than, say, holiness?

How Did We Get Here?

Erik Thoennes, professor of biblical and theological studies at Biola University, sees the authenticity trend in the undergrads he teaches. At the beginning of each class he asks his students to write down two things they love and two things they hate. Consistently, one of the things they say they hate is "fake people." But the Christian life involves a whole lot of "fakin' it" on the path to being integrated, Thoennes says.
"There's this idea that to live out of conformity with how I feel is hypocrisy; but that's a wrong definition of hypocrisy," Thoennes said. "To live out of conformity to what I believeis hypocrisy. To live in conformity with what I believe, in spite of what I feel, isn't hypocrisy; it's integrity."
Thoennes hopes his students understand that sanctification involves living in a way that often conflicts with what feels authentic. Still, he gets why younger evangelicals have such a radar for phoniness. They grew up in an evangelical culture that produced more than a few noteworthy cases of fallen leaders and high-profile hypocrisy. Their cynicism reflects a church culture that often hid its imperfections beneath a facade of legalism and self-righteousness.
All of this contributed, in the early and mid-2000s, to an authenticity boom in evangelicalism. Recognition of the biblical calls to confession (James 5:17) and "walking in the light" (1 John 1:5-10) had not gone away in Protestantism; they just became more and more couched in language of being real, raw, transparent, and authentic in community.
Typical of the many articles written about the topic is Josh Riebeck's 2007 piece forRelevant, "Fighting for Authenticity," which announced that "authentic community, authentic faith, and authentic Jesus are the cry of the new generation."
"We don't want to be fooled anymore. We don't want to be gullible anymore," Riebeck wrote. "We want flawed. We want imperfect. We want real."
But why must "real" be synonymous with flawed and imperfect? When someone opens up about their junk, we think, "you're being real," and we can relate to them. But what about the pastor who has served faithfully for decades without any scandal, loved his wife and family, and embodied the fruit of the spirit? Is this less real?

When 'Authentic' Is Actually Inauthentic

Often, what passes for authenticity in evangelical Christianity is actually a safe, faux-openness that establishes an environment where vulnerability is embraced, only up to a point.
Becky Trejo, a 20-something photographer from Los Angeles who attends Mars Hill Church's Orange County location alongside her husband, Neph, has observed this trend in some small groups she's attended.
"There's this 'sweet spot' of authenticity," Trejo said. "Like if you reveal that you struggle with gossip, people are like 'whoopdee!' But then there are some sins you might share where it's like 'whoa, that's too much.' There has to be this middle ground, like 'I'm struggling with wanting to sleep with my boyfriend.' That's the sweet spot where people see you as really vulnerable and authentic, and it's required admission."
In this dynamic we often reward those who are most vocal about their authentic struggles in the "sweet spot," without giving equal weight to the "too small" sins or creating a space that is safe enough for the most embarrassing sins or darkest struggles.
This dynamic reflects another problem: our skewed understanding of sin. It's almost as if our sins have become a currency of solidarity—something we pat each other on the back about as fellow authentic, broken people. But sin should always be grieved rather than celebrated, Thoennes argues.
"Brokenness is an interesting word because if it's sin, we should call it that," Thoennes said. "I only feel sorry for broken people. God's mad at sinful people. Woundedness and brokenness are aspects of our sinful condition, but they tend not to emphasize the 'I'm giving God the finger' part of it."
We've become too comfortable with our sin, to the point that it's how we identify ourselves and relate to others. But shouldn't we find connection over Christ, rather than over our depravity?

Authenticity Means Growth 

Our notion of authenticity should not primarily be about affirming each other in our struggles—patting each other on the back as we share about porn struggles while enjoying a second round of beers at the local pub Bible study. Rather, authenticity comes when we collectively push each other, by grace, in the direction of Christ-likeness.
Reflecting on Christianity's "current obsession with brokenness" for her.meneutics, Megan Hill wrote, "If we are constantly looking for someone else who is broken in all the same places, we overlook the comfort we can have in the perfect God-man."
Hill wisely notes, "Grace covers. And it covers again and again. Thanks be to God." But if we stop there, "We are only telling half of the story. . . . Receiving grace for my failures also includes Christ's help to turn from sin and embrace new obedience."
Could it be that the most authentic thing any of us can do is faithfully pursue holiness and obediently follow after Christ?
In Scripture, Paul teaches again and again that Christians are "dead to sin" and risen to new life, no longer slave to sins but to righteousness (Rom. 6). That doesn't mean the battle with sin is gone. But as Paul describes the struggle in Romans 7, he says "it is no longer I myself who do it, but it is sin living in me" (Rom. 7:17), noticeably separating his identity from this unwanted alien thing still residing within. The struggle is neither the point nor the marker of one's identity. In Christ we are new creations (2 Cor. 5:17), called to flourish through life in the Spirit (Rom. 8).
"I think goodness is more real in that we are actually living more as humans were intended to," Thoennes said. "Jesus is the realest human we'll ever see. He's authentic. He understands our brokenness. But he's as real as can be."

No Authenticity Points

Sin is necessarily part of our story as redeemed people. We shouldn't ignore or make light of it. But we also shouldn't wallow in it or take it lightly, for the sake of earning authenticity points.
As someone who became a Christian in his 20s, after having experienced the rocky ups and downs of a life without Christ, Luis Salazar of Whittier, California, finds it sad that so many young evangelicals seem to think dramatic struggles with sin are more real.
"I would never want to walk through it again," Salazar said. "I wish I hadn't gone through all that. A lifestyle of flashy sin isn't necessary to experience grace. It's not necessary to have a grand testimony of brokenness in order to be an authentic Christian."
To overcome our "authenticity" confusion, evangelicals must see themselves differently. Rather than focusing on our brokenness, we should look to Christ and those who model Christ-likeness. We should move in that direction, by grace and through the power of the Holy Spirit.
We should also, perhaps, stop speaking of ourselves in such "we are scum" terms. In Christ, we can be more than scum. And that's a message the world sorely needs.
"While we think self-deprecation causes us to be more relatable and empathetic to non-Christians, it's ultimately communicating a sense of disappointment, disillusionment, and discontentment," Stephen Mattson wrote for Red Letter Christians. "It thrives on negativity and kills our sense of hope."
"The reality is that there are many things wrong with Christianity," Mattson said, "but instead of focusing on the bad, let's attempt to reclaim the hope that Jesus represents—redeeming our world by personifying the sacrifice, service, grace, hope, joy, and love of Christ."
Brett McCracken is a film critic for Christianity Today and is the author of the recently released Gray Matters: Navigating the Space Between Legalism and Liberty, as well asHipster Christianity: When Church and Cool Collide. You can follow him on Twitter.