I have never read Michael Kelley but know biblical truth that runs contrary to Christian consumerism when I read it! I’m amazed at how deep my own consumerism runs. This is most clearly visible to me at how righteously offended I feel when someone or something doesn’t measure up to my expectations. So when, for example, the internet in my home is running slowly, I immediately look for the person who I have determined is the right recipient of my indignation.
That’s right – I look for someone to be mat at… when the wireless signal in my upper middle class home isn’t fast enough for me to sit and watch the exact tv show I want to watch on this magic box called a computer which, incidentally, also has no wires.
It gets really disturbing, though, when that consumerism infiltrates our attitude toward our local churches. And it surely does. At some point, most any of us who grew up in a Christianized culture are going to look around at our church, the one we have supposedly given our lives to through membership, and see that some other church in town has better music. Or a trendier vibe. Or better coffee. Or a more polished preacher. Or whatever. Our church has suddenly become not cool enough, and that same righteous indignation boils up inside of us because we believe we deserve something more… we deserve the best!
So we leave.
Now let’s be clear – I’m not talking about legitimate reasons to leave a church. Those are real. There are doctrinal issues that are worthy of dividing fellowship over. I’m not talking an issue of the integrity of the gospel; I’m talking about the nonsensical issues of preference that make us church shop whenever we feel a little restless. In this post, I’d like to argue for three reasons to do the very counter-cultural thing of actually staying in the church that’s simply not cool enough:
1. It will teach you the nature of the church.
The church is not a place; it’s not an institution; it’s not a building. The church is the people of God, united despite their differences in race, creed, economics, or education under the common banner of grace and faith in Jesus Christ. We become consumers when we see church as an institution placed in the world to meet our needs instead of the called out people of God meant to represent His kingdom as an embassy in a foreign land.
When we choose to stay, we are recognizing that we actually are here for the church, not necessarily the other way around, and that we are giving of ourselves to this people rather than only taking from it.
2. It will teach you the nature of humility.
What does it mean to be humble? It means that we truly look to the interests of others ahead of our own. When we leave a church because it’s not cool enough, we are acting directly oppositely of this. We are acting in our own best interests, never mind the people who are still there. What’s more, we are failing to recognize that we have a unique set of gifts that God has given to that particular church in order that she may function in a healthy way. We have to be willing to forgo our own preferences for the sake of something bigger than ourselves. We learn to do this by the simple act of staying.
3. It will teach you the nature of unity.
Unity is not uniformity. Far from it. In fact, if we fast forward to the end of time, we will find that the fulfillment of God’s purposes in the universe involve a host of different people speaking different languages with different skin colors, all gathered around the throne of the lamb. Church is NOT where we all look the same, not in heaven and therefore not on earth.
True unity, then, does not come with something as easy as total agreement. It only comes through death. It comes when one or more of us choose to die to our own preferences for the sake of the overall unity in the body of Christ.
Before you make that visit, before you give up and cash it in, think about it. Think about staying. Think about it for the sake of your own soul – that you might grow in Christ through the simple act of standing firm right where you are – even if it means it’s not as cool.
I love reading John Piper and have read many of his books. Desiring God radically changed my life and ministry. I don't read him as often these days but he is still worth listening to for his theological depth, his passion for Christ, and his passion for God's church. Often my mind sharpened and my affections raised in reading him. For that reason, I commend this post to you!
Pastor, “when the chief Shepherd appears you will receive the unfading crown of glory” (1 Peter 5:4).
Peter means for you, as a pastor, to persevere in the ministry when the hard times come that make you not want to be a pastor. And they will come — family things that make the ministry almost unbearable, church conflict that makes it almost unbearable, external persecution that makes it almost unbearable. He knows those things are coming and, therefore, he offers you this amazing promise: “When the chief shepherd appears, you will receive the unfading crown of glory.”
If you look around and there doesn’t seem to be a lot of payoff here, lift up your eyes. And if you have been taught by some psychologist or ethicist that you shouldn’t live for reward, close their book and read the Bible. This is a glorious promise to faithful pastors in hard situations. It is meant to motivate you in the ministry. It is meant to produce perseverance. It is meant to produce eagerness. It is meant to produce willingness. It is meant to produce on the ground, in the trenches, exemplary life.
When the chief Shepherd comes, you who served faithfully in ministry and followed my instructions about willingness and eagerness and exemplary life, you will be crowned by the King of the universe. Pastor, you will be crowned by the King of kings. You can last. And if you dwell on it, dwell on verse 4 long enough, you could fall in love with this work, again. You can. Life is short. The crown is big.
They cannot rob you. Don’t let them rob you of the joy of the ministry.
Isn’t that remarkable that a book like 1 Peter, full of pain, cover-to-cover suffering, would say you should be a happy pastor? You should be a happy pastor. And your happiness in the ministry is rooted there in hope.
This was in this week's issue of Preaching Today under the subject of evangelism but this fits fantastically well with teaching and preaching. Our goal as preachers should make people fall in love with our subject, Jesus Christ.
Teller from Penn & Teller (yes, he is the silent one), broke his silence for an interview with The Atlantic on the importance of performance in education. He was a Latin Teacher for six years before going into magic. But his tips for teaching could easily apply to how we should interact with other people when talking about our faith. Teller says, "The first job of a teacher is to make the student fall in love with the subject. That doesn't have to be done by waving your arms and prancing around the classroom; there's all sorts of ways to go at it, but no matter what, you are a symbol of the subject in the students' minds." Wow, that sounds like a great job description for a preacher—or for every Christian. Teller also adds, "As that symbol … the teacher has a duty to engage, to create romance that can transform apathy into interest, and, if a teacher does her job well, a sort of transference of enthusiasm from teacher to student takes place." And that sounds like a good plan for evangelism.
Most faithful ministry leaders I know are tired. Many are the good kind of tired — they work hard, stay diligent and productive, and love their churches and ministries well. But many are the bad kind of tired — they overwork, they over-commit, they’re one or two more ministry crises or conflicts away from falling apart. So how can a pastor work to protect himself from crashing and burning? Incorporate the necessary ministry rhythm of RBM.
Rest. Boundaries. Margin.
Every pastor needs to intentionally and strategically make sure his ministry life includes the right amount of RBM.
It’s not optional. It’s not a suggestion. God commanded it. Not every now and then. At least weekly. Every human being needs regular rest from work. A lot of pastors I know do not take a day off, or spend their day “off” working on their sermon or doing other things that aren’t exactly restful. You might say your season of life does not allow for much rest, and I would say that you’re setting yourself up for a disastrous next season.
When I was pastoring I committed Fridays to my wife. That was our day together. Once this became known, a couple of people in the church took it upon themselves to test this boundary, repeatedly asking for meetings on that day. But I protected it. Your boundaries might be different, but you still need them. I’m not talking about ignoring actual crisis or emergency situations. I’m just talking about regular ministry life.
It may sound noble and godly to keep convenience store hours, but it’s a fast-track to physical exhaustion, as well as gradual resentment of the flock. A pastor without boundaries has an idolatry problem, and he is encouraging his church to have idolatry problems too. Good pastors are available to their churches, yes, but bad pastors try to be available 24/7. Read this closely: You. aren’t. Jesus. Stop trying to be. Only Christ is omnipresent. Only Christ is omnipotent.
Margin is similar to rest, but it’s not about not working, but about intentionally incorporating into your schedule open spaces for the more quiet kind of work. Making sure I had plenty of margin in my ministry week for praying, reading, studying, and just thinking was extremely helpful. It’s also a good preparation for the weeks when ministry burdens are unexpectedly heavy, or when there are surprise crisis situations or sudden counseling sessions needed.
If you’ve already scheduled your week to the limit with meetings and other ministry tasks, dealing with the occasional crises or surprises that come up will prevent you from completing necessary tasks, add burdens to support staff or other team members, overload your mental and emotional circuits, create a more frenetic week than necessary, and nullify your rest time. Incorporating margin allows you to be flexible and adaptive to the different needs of your ministry week to week. Schedule a reasonable amount of time of “free space” in your work week, use it in helpful, productive ways on things that could be set aside in the moment if something comes up.
So there you go. It’s not rocket science. Mind your RBM and you will go good way’s toward protecting yourself from ministry burnout.
As a pastor, I am always trying to get people more engaged, not for my sake but for theirs and more importantly for Christ's sake. Here is great advice from jonathan Leeman.
When you hear the words “church government,” what do you think? Members’ meetings? Elder board rooms? Fights over the budget or the color of the carpet? Too often it can seem that way.
Yet church government should involve so much more. In fact, it should tie into the everyday life of the church. And everyone has a role to play.
Did you know, ordinary church member, that Jesus has given you a job? Your elders have a special office, to be sure, but so do you. And Jesus has given you elders in order to train you to do your job.
So if Jesus’s discipleship program gives every single member a job, what responsibilities come with this job? There are at least seven.
1. Attend Church Regularly
You, as a baptized Christian and ordinary member of a church, are responsible to attend church regularly. Scripture could not be clearer about this fundamental responsibility so that you can give yourself to love and good works and encouragement.
And let us be concerned about one another in order to promote love and good works, not staying away from our worship meetings, as some habitually do, but encouraging each other, and all the more as you see the day drawing near. (Heb. 10:24–25)
The author threatens final judgment if you do not attend (vv. 26–27). The stakes are high indeed. After all, if you do not attend, you cannot fulfill the next six responsibilities. Attendance makes everything else possible.
2. Help Preserve the Gospel
You, as a baptized Christian and ordinary member of a church, are responsible for protecting and preserving the gospel and the gospel’s ministry in your church.
Think about Paul’s “amazement” in Galatians 1: “I am amazed that you are so quickly . . . turning to a different gospel” (v. 6). He upbraids not the pastors, but the members, and tells them to reject even apostles or angels who teach a false gospel.
What this means, Christian, is that you are responsible to study the gospel and know it. Can you summarize the gospel in 60 seconds or less? Can you explain the relationship between faith and works? Can a Christian live in unrepentant sin? Why or why not? Why is it important for a Christian to affirm the doctrine of the Trinity? What role do good deeds, fellowship, and hospitality play in promoting a church’s gospel ministry? Why should a church never let its identity and ministry be subverted by a political party?
These are the kinds of questions, Christian, that you are responsible to answer in order to help guard the gospel. I am not telling you to find answers independently of your elders. They should equip you to answer such questions. If they aren’t, you might not be in the best church.
Know the gospel, and what the gospel requires in the church’s and a Christian’s life.
3. Help Affirm Gospel Citizens
You, as a baptized Christian and ordinary member of a church, are responsible for protecting the gospel and the gospel’s ministry in your church by affirming and disaffirming gospel citizens.
In a matter of discipline Paul doesn’t address the Corinthian elders, but the Corinthian church itself (1 Cor. 5:1–13; 2 Cor. 2:6–8). Likewise, it is your responsibility, Christian, to receive and dismiss members. Jesus has given it to you. For you to neglect this work only cultivates complacency, nominalism, and eventually theological liberalism.
Of course, the job here is bigger than showing up at members’ meetings and voting on new members. It involves working to know and be known by your fellow members seven days a week. You cannot affirm and give oversight to a people you don’t know, not with integrity anyhow. That doesn’t mean you’re responsible to know personally every member of your church. We do this work collectively. But look for ways to start including more of your fellow members into the regular rhythm of your life. Paul offers a useful checklist for doing this:
Show family affection to one another with brotherly love. Outdo one another in showing honor. Do not lack diligence; be fervent in spirit; serve the Lord. Rejoice in hope; be patient in affliction; be persistent in prayer. Share with the saints in their needs; pursue hospitality. (Rom. 12:10–13)
How are you doing on this list?
4. Attend Members’ Meetings
So how do you preserve the gospel and affirm gospel citizens? By showing up consistently for members’ meetings.
Different churches make decisions in different ways, which is fine. But whatever venue your church uses for making the decisions concerning the gospel “what” (the purity of the gospel) and the gospel “who” (the people of the gospel), you should be there.
You cannot do your job if you don’t show up to the office.
Admittedly, members’ meetings have a bad rap. I understand. So many are unhealthy cauldrons of dispute and insurgency. But don’t let bad marriages cause you to give up on marriage. By God’s grace, I’ve been a part of several churches now where the members’ meetings feel like warm, encouraging, and engaging family gatherings. Part of that depends on the leadership of the pastors in those meetings and how they plan it. Part of that depends on you.
5. Disciple Other Church Members
You, as a baptized Christian and ordinary member of a church, are responsible for protecting the gospel and the gospel’s ministry in your church by discipling other church members.
Remember Ephesians 4:15–16. The church builds itself up in love as each part does its work. You have work to do to build up the church. And part of that includes the ministry of words. A few verses later, Paul says, “Speak the truth, each one to his neighbor, because we are members of one another” (v. 25). Speak truth to them, and help them to grow. Our words should be “good for building up someone in need, so that it gives grace to those who hear” (Eph. 4:29). Also, make yourself available to be spoken to. Are you willing to listen?
Basic Christianity involves building up other believers. It is a part of fulfilling the Great Commission and making disciples. Speaking of . . .
6. Share the Gospel with Outsiders
If through union with the second Adam God has reinstated you as a priest-king, your whole life should reflect the gospel in word and deed. You are an ambassador. Paul’s charge and example is worth repeating here:
He has committed the message of reconciliation to us. Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, certain that God is appealing through us. We plead on Christ’s behalf, “Be reconciled to God.” (2 Cor. 5:19b–20)
Every Christian has been reconciled, and thus every Christian has received this message of reconciliation. Therefore, we plead and we pray for sinners to be reconciled to God.
This, too, is a part of your job. The command to “Go and make disciples” belongs to you (Matt. 28:19).
7. Follow Your Leaders
It’s the job of the pastors or elders to equip the saints for the work of ministry: for these previous six responsibilities (Eph. 4:12). If elders aren’t teaching the gospel, catechizing the church in the gospel, teaching them their responsibility for one another, then they’re ill-equipping the church for the job Jesus has given them.
Christian, this means that you’re responsible to avail yourself of the elders’ instruction and counsel. Hold on to the pattern of sound teaching you’ve learned from them (2 Tim. 1:13). Follow their teaching, conduct, purpose, faith, love, and endurance, along with their persecutions and sufferings (2 Tim. 3:10–11).
Be the wise son or daughter in Proverbs who takes the path of wisdom, prosperity, and life by fearing the Lord and heeding instruction. It is better than jewels and gold.
Authority Brings Responsibility
The Bible gives final authority and therefore responsibility to the gathered congregation. With authority comes responsibility. By joining a church, you become responsible for what your church teaches and for every single member’s discipleship.
You are responsible to act if Pastor Ed begins to teach a false gospel.
You are responsible to help ensure Member Candidate Chris adequately understands the gospel.
You are responsible for Sister Sue’s discipleship to Christ, and that she’s being cared for and nurtured toward Christlikeness.
You are responsible to ensure Member Max is excluded from the fellowship of the church if his life and profession no longer agree.
Who trains you for all this work? Your elders. Add your responsibilities together with theirs and you have Jesus’s discipleship program.
More than 75 Minutes
When people come to join my church, they are asked to do an interview with an elder, where they are asked to share their testimony and to explain the gospel. At the conclusion of any interviews I personally conduct, assuming I’m going to recommend the person for membership to the whole congregation, I will say something like the following:
Friend, by joining this church, you will become jointly responsible for whether or not this congregation continues to faithfully proclaim the gospel. That means you will become jointly responsible both for what this church teaches, as well as whether or not its members’ lives remain faithful. And one day you will stand before God and give an account for how you used this authority. Will you sit back and stay anonymous, doing little more than passively showing up for 75 minutes on Sundays? Or will you jump in with the hard and rewarding work of studying the gospel, building relationships, and making disciples? We need more hands for the harvest, so we hope you’ll join us in that work.
I started a DMin program this past year at Talbot Seminary, in the Ministry Skills Track. It has three focuses, preaching, leadership, and discipleship. As a result this past year has been spent immersing myself in preaching books and blogs. I have come across a Randall Pelton's blog that I have found helpful. Here is a good reminder on the necessity of explaining basic theological truths.
n this post I’m continuing my summary of the book, Belief Without Borders: Inside the Minds of the Spiritual but not Religious, by Linda Mercadante. Of all the things I learned about the spiritual but not religious (SBNR), what surprised me the most was how prevalent is the notion that human beings are basically good.
Look at how prevalent the belief in human goodness is: “The one thing nearly everyone said—the one thing they most often started their comments with—is that human nature is inherently good” (p. 129). Here are some telling quotes: “I think we’re born all good in terms of spirit” (p. 130) “I think that the little child is born in goodness” “I believe in essential goodness….Basically we’re very good.” “We are good and doing wrong is out of character.” “I think people are essentially good. Each one of us has a nugget of basic goodness.” “I feel like every person is born pure and innocent, good all the way around.” “We’re all divine….We’re all masters….We’re all perfect and all we have to do is remember that.” (p. 134)
This information is important to me, not because I have many SBNR’s in our faith-family, but because their mindset is in the air we breathe. These notions are at war with our Christian faith.
Did you think it was that blatant? I didn’t.
It reminded me how important it is to explain original sin and sin in general whenever preaching portions contain those concepts. I can’t assume everyone knows our predicament. No predicament, no need for the Gospel. Or, how about this? Decrease the belief in our sinfulness and we decrease the need for God’s grace for our growth.
Anyway, remember that belief in human goodness is in the air and that air leaks into the sanctuaries each Sunday.
Preach well for the sake of God’s reputation in the church and in Christ Jesus (Ephesians 3:21).
I identify with this issue among many who are unchurched. Another in a series by Randall Peyton.
In this series I’m highlighting some of the insights gained from reading, Belief Without Borders: Inside the Minds of the Spiritual but not Religious (by Linda Mercadante). I wanted to get a better understanding of what many of our congregants bring to the equation each time we preach. This kind of information affects sermon content and delivery.
For instance, many of our listeners have had previous relationships with other churches (it would be interesting to know what percentage of our parishioners have no history with a prior congregation). And many of those relationships were not good. This was one of the experiences shared by all five types of spiritual but not religious (SBNR’s) interviewees.
That means they already have a bad taste in their mouth when they sit down at your table and eat your spiritual food. One person reported:
“my mother and father would get mad at the church and pull us all out and I was too young to have a voice in the matter…” (p. 44).
Mercadante summarizes a common refrain: “[they] would find a tenet with which they disagreed, or they became disappointed with the all-too-human qualities of the average congregation, spiritual group, leader, or participant. Either they found the beliefs ultimately unbelievable, or felt that members were not living up to them.” (p. 52)
Here’s what I’m trying to do to help them reconnect with our church while I preach:
before Sunday morning, pray for their healing
showcase the relationship I have with the connected congregants through friendly sermon dialogue (it has a way of showing the hesitant that this is a safe place for their souls; they tend to get caught up in the relationship)
let them know you know they might disagree with a statement and address their concern as you prove your point (quasi-apologetics)
talk frankly about what one of my colleagues calls being a “messy church” (admit that we don’t always live up to what we believe; be honest about who we are)
mix in genuine smiles with all the serious sermon stuff (I’m still amazed at how strangers react to smiles in and out of church)
Preach well for the sake of God’s reputation in the Church and in Christ Jesus (Ephesians 3:21).
I find many in the church that have a fuzzy understanding of truth! Another post by Randall Peyton reviewingBeliefWithout Borders: Inside the Minds of Spiritual but not Religious.
Reading, Belief Without Borders: Inside the Minds of the Spiritual but not Religious, reminded me that I have to do a better job preaching to various kinds of Believers. It’s not enough to think in terms of saved and unsaved. Within the category of the “saved” are professing Christians experiencing less-than-desired reactions to the Word of God.
The author writes:
“it has always been obvious to religious leaders that there are many ‘fuzzy’ faithful sitting in their pews; people who are neither completely clear, completely in agreement, nor completely faithful to the tents of their religion” (p. 11).
Maybe it’s always been obvious, but that doesn’t mean pastors preach with these kinds of people in mind.
To the slightly confused I could say: “Let me try to make that clearer. In other words…”
To the slightly disagreeable I could say: “Let me try to prove this because you might not be buying it yet…”
To the slightly unfaithful (is that like saying someone is slightly pregnant?!) I could say: “Some of you know God has not been able to rely on you lately in this area…”
Most, if not all, of these kinds of listeners would claim to have a saving relationship with Jesus Christ. Effective preachers like Jonathan Edwards or D. M. Lloyd-Jones made it a habit to challenge that claim. They pointedly spoke to various categories of listeners. They acknowledged the presence of those overhearing worship; they spoke directly to various categories within the camp called Christian.
God help us do the same for the sake of His reputation in the Church and in the world (Ephesians 3:21).
This series by Randall Pelton is helpful in understanding the way listeners are hearing your sermon.
According to Linda Mercadante’s book, Belief Without Borders: Inside the Minds of the Spiritual but not Religious (Oxford, 2014), some of our congregants might be thinking: “I’m just going through the motions. My heart is not in this.” It made me wonder if I ever address them during the sermon.
The spiritual, but not religious (SBNR), population is growing and I wanted to know what they were thinking about church and Christianity (in that order). The reason is because our parishioners breathe this same air in every day and inevitably bring some SBNR thoughts to church.
This phenomenon of going through the motions is not new to SBNR folks. Churchgoers have always had to fight this at times. But, evidently, a number of people who classify themselves as SBNR attend church while their faith gets weaker, not stronger.
Mercandante writes: “Those whose beliefs are weakening often hang on for a time as ‘ritualists,’ that is, going through the motions rather than being deeply committed” (p. 9).
So, this made me wonder how many of my listeners are experiencing a weakening of their faith. How many are ritualistic with no heart in their worship? How many are just going through the motions without feeling a deep love for God and neighbor?
And then I wondered if I ever address this crowd at all during Sunday sermons. Do you address them? Do you ever say something like: “Some of you know your faith is not strong right now. You know you’re just going through the motions. Remember that our Heavenly Father loves you dearly. So much so that He gave His only Son for you…” (Here I’m resisting the urge to add more guilt on them by telling them how to fix their problem through their own actions.) They’re there. We need to let them know we know they’re there.
May God give us wisdom to preach to this kind of listener so He receives glory in the church and in Christ Jesus (Ephesians 3:21).