The Main Event

Church culture can be captivating. There are typically so many things happening that something is bound to get your attention. In fact, if you were to take a moment to consider the church you currently attend, you would most likely be able to pinpoint the particular thing that was most significant in leading you to unite with that spiritual family. Nevertheless, there is one task charged to every gospel-centered church that stands above the rest. “The fundamental reason your church exists is to make disciples of Jesus” (Geiger, et al., Transformational Discipleship, 10).

Two specific passages of Scripture come to mind on this subject: Matthew 28:18-20 and Colossians 1:25-29. The first passage is a pretty obvious choice if you have been exposed to spiritual things at all. “The Great Commission,” as it is often called, tells us very clearly we are to “make disciples of all nations.” The other passage, however, is a little less well-known in the discipleship conversation. We read some key words within the Colossians passage in verse 28. Paul writes, “We proclaim Him, admonishing every man and teaching every man with all wisdom, so that we may present every man complete in Christ.”

The word “complete” can be understood to mean “mature.” In other words, Paul’s purpose in teaching was to see every believer growing in Christ to the point that they were mature. Why is this important? I’m glad you asked. The necessity of making disciples at Berlin Baptist Church or any other church cannot be overstated. Eric Geiger and company explain, “For a church to be deficient in discipleship is to be deficient in its fundamental reason for existence. If any organization is careless in its core reason for existence, it doesn’t matter if the organization excels at other things” (Transformational Discipleship, 11).

So what’s the bottom line? Again, I’m glad you asked. Here it is: There are many things churches CAN do in ministry, but there are plain few things that churches MUST do in ministry. Making disciples is near the top of the list of things the church MUST do. Please let that sink in. If we do nothing else, we MUST preach the gospel and make disciples. Otherwise, we will fail to fulfill our reason for existence. How do we know if we are succeeding? We need only to look at ourselves and each other. “The end result of discipleship is not merely the knowledge of all Jesus commanded but the obedience to all Jesus commanded” (Transformational Discipleship, 18).

Are we growing in the grace and knowledge of Christ? Are there observable differences in our lives based upon our profession of faith? Are we influencing the culture for the glory of God? Let us pray together that the answers to these questions will all be yes in Jesus’ name.

Mike. Out.

The Pride of Disagreement

God is gracious in his dealings with his people. He is good in all his ways and he gives good gifts to his children. Marriage is one of the greatest of these gifts. There are so many good things about Christian marriage. The peace and joy found in a biblical union is perhaps unparalleled. I could use this entire post to list positive characteristics of this kind of relationship, but I would rather begin with this premise in order to talk about an area of the marriage relationship that is far too often overlooked. I am referring to good communication, specifically in the context of disagreement.

Now I should mention how vitally important communication is in all areas of a relationship, but it can become painfully obvious very rapidly whenever there is disagreement. Emotions have begun to rise and sensitivity is at an all time high. The potential for misunderstanding increases and tone of voice becomes even more important. There are so many things that could go wrong at this point. In fact, at this point, it is likely many things have already gone wrong. So why do I even bring up all this stuff? Well, I’m glad you asked. Let me share a personal experience.

Recently my wife and I had a little disagreement. Now, we have been married for twenty-three years and we have three wonderful children, so this was not the first time, but it was the most recent time. We were looking at a particular situation from two different perspectives and we definitely did not see eye to eye. So how did we handle our little difference of opinion? Well, I would love to tell you we both maintained our composure and we treated each other with kindness as we sorted through the areas of disagreement. Unfortunately, this was not the case. Without going into too much detail, I will just say we had both placed a higher priority on defending our positions than we had on resolving the dispute in godly way.

I share this personal experience for a couple reasons. First, it would be beyond the realm of insanity to think a Pastor and his wife are somehow immune from arguments, much less struggling to resolve arguments in the proper way. Second, it is important to understand the root cause of failing to practice biblical conflict resolution. The root cause, of course, is sin, but specifically it is the sin of pride which is to blame. Pride causes a person to value their own opinion more than they value another human being. Pride causes a person to value winning an argument more than they value the gospel. I can tell you based on personal experience, but more importantly, based on the authority of God’s Word, it is ALWAYS sinful to behave in a prideful manner. Nothing good ever comes from a prideful attitude.

I offer one final thought to this brief monologue. Pride was in play when the enemy tempted Adam and Eve to disobey God in the Garden of Eden (Genesis 3:1-7). Pride was in play when the enemy tempted Jesus in the wilderness (Luke 4:1-13). Pride is in play when the enemy tempts you and me to act in a way contrary to that which brings glory and honor to the Savior King. Hear the words of the Apostle John, writing under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit: “Do not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world–the desires of the flesh and the desires of the eyes and pride of life–is not from the Father but is from the world. And the world is passing away along with its desires, but whoever does the will of God abides forever” (1 John 2:15-17).

Pride is a dangerous thing and it always precedes a fall. Be on your guard.

Mike. Out.

A Burden for Gospel-Centered Conversations

A few thoughts on a Monday.

The life of a Christ-follower is meant to be distinct. Observing the life of a disciple of Jesus, by its very nature, should stir some measure of confusion in the mind of the observer. Confusion to some degree is inevitable when the observable behavior of another fails to agree with the culture in which they exist. Not only might there be a failure to agree, but there may seem to be an outright contradiction. In his book, The Mission of God, Christopher J.H. Wright explains, “Having been chosen, redeemed and called into covenant relationship, the people of God have a life to live–a distinctive, holy, ethical life that is to be lived before God and in the sight of the nations.”

Why does this task seem so difficult? It is my perception that many Christians struggle to live holy lives that are distinctly different from the culture in which they live. It has certainly been my experience that “the struggle is real.” The problem appears to exist not necessarily due to a lack of knowledge, but due to a lack of truth application. Perhaps the struggle is amplified by a deficiency in Scripture reading, Scripture meditation, prayer, and accountability. Nevertheless, attempting to live a holy, godly life in one’s own strength proves to be an insurmountable task. It would seem appropriate, then, to remember the words given to the Apostle Peter as recorded in 2 Peter 1:3, in which he explains, “His divine power has granted to us everything pertaining to life and godliness, through the true knowledge of Him who called us by His own glory and excellence.”

This reminder proves particularly helpful because it points the reader back to the truth of God’s provision. He has granted to His followers everything needed for salvation as well as sanctification. Thankfully, the disciple of Christ need not attempt the Christian life in his own strength. This news is especially encouraging given the commission of God’s people to take the gospel message to the ends of the earth for the glory of Christ. It is this commission for which the Christ-follower must be burdened.

So whose task is it really? Does it belong to all of God’s people or only a select few of them? Consider the words of J.I. Packer:

“The commission to publish the gospel and make disciples was never confined to the apostles. Nor is it now confined to the Church’s ministers. It is a commission that rests upon the whole Church collectively, and therefore upon each Christian individually. All God’s people are sent to do as the Philippians did, and ‘shine as lights in the world; holding forth the word of life.’ Every Christian, therefore, has a God-given obligation to make known the gospel of Christ. And every Christian who declares the gospel message to any fellow-man does so as Christ’s ambassador and representative, according to the terms of his God-given commission. Such is the authority, and such the responsibility, of the Church and of the Christian in evangelism.” (Evangelism & The Sovereignty of God, 45-46.)

Perhaps herein lies the rub. I am commanded to share the gospel. However, every time I share the gospel I am presuming to speak on behalf of Christ as His ambassador. Therefore, I must live a holy life so as not to bring reproach upon the name and reputation of Christ. Yet, my salvation and forgiveness notwithstanding, I am a sinner by nature and I am incapable of perfection while in this earthly body. I must, at this point, call to mind 2 Peter 1:3. My Savior has granted to me “everything pertaining to life and godliness.” I am not alone. I must trust in the divine power of my Holy God.

So take heart, Christian. Read God’s Word. Pray for strength. Trust the Savior. Preach the Gospel.

God never fails.

Mike. Out.

The Gift of Being Led

Leadership is a fascinating subject. Leaders often find themselves in precarious positions due to the very nature of their task. They must aggressively point the way forward in such a way as to inspire others to action. They must also be sensitive, deliberate, and patient enough to allow their followers the opportunity to keep up. Leadership is a delicate balance.

An additional challenge exists, however, on the “follower” side of leadership. This challenge seems to be especially evident in the context of the local church. Let me explain. Members of local churches come from all different backgrounds. They come from all different socioeconomic settings. They serve in a wide variety of vocations. Despite this diversity, there is one similarity. People, in general, find it difficult to submit to spiritual leadership. People, in general, seem to view the church as the one place where everyone should have a voice and no one should be expected to yield their opinions or wishes to anyone else. Certainly this must be true to some degree, but can this sentiment be true unilaterally?

I have a theory on the subject. I believe many people are in positions in life where they do not lead. There are far more employees in the workforce than there are employers. There are certainly more students in the public school system than there are teachers and administrators. Therefore, there are exponentially more followers than there are leaders across our communities in a given 5-day work week. In light of this truth, I believe many people come to the gathering of the local church with the expectation they will finally be able to supervise others instead of being supervised by others. They will finally be able to give directions instead of take directions. Ultimately, they will finally be able to lead instead of being led. There is, however, a problem with this thought process: it gives no consideration to the calling of God.

God calls the spiritual leaders of His church. He not only calls them to serve; He calls them to prepare and to be equipped. In addition, God proclaims that spiritual leaders are a gift He gives to His church. Observe the language inspired by the Holy Spirit and written by the Apostle Paul in Ephesians 4:11-13:

And he gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the pastors and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ.

Leaders (Pastors) in the local church are given (called) by God in order “to equip the saints for the work of ministry.” It is difficult to equip someone else if you yourself have not first been equipped. This explains the call of God to ministry as also being a call to prepare, to be equipped for the task.

The challenge comes when those who have been called and equipped to lead actually attempt to lead those under their spiritual care. What if they do not want to be led? Most people of adult age have experienced both good and bad leadership. They have been encouraged and motivated by some while being disappointed and let down by others. I believe this truth contributes to the reluctance of some to submit to godly leadership. Everyone fails at some point. Every leader will let you down eventually. No one is perfect. But, please hear me when I say this: refusing to joyfully submit to the spiritual leadership of the one God has called to His church is certainly not the way to guard against the potential of being disappointed.

I have failed personally as a leader at times in the course of ministry. I have made decisions that proved to be less than ideal. I have faced challenges and difficulties in the context of the local church. I must accept full responsibility for the errors I have made throughout my pastoral ministry. However, there are also countless times when I have made the correct decisions. I have succeeded as a leader. I have faced challenges and handled them appropriately. So….what is the point of this personal reflection?

Here it is. You cannot afford to judge spiritual leaders by one moment or one instance when they let you down. Would you want someone to judge you by one moment or one instance in your life when you were not at your best? I didn’t think so. God calls pastors/teachers/elders to lead His churches. He also calls them to be equipped for their task. Believers (church members) are instructed to follow the leadership God provides for His churches. Hebrews 13:17 reminds us:

Obey your leaders and submit to them, for they are keeping watch over your souls, as those who will have to give an account. Let them do this with joy and not with groaning, for that would be of no advantage to you.

The bottom line is this: pastors and teachers have an obligation and responsibility to seek God’s face, maintain a growing relationship with the Lord, and to lead according to God’s will for His church. In the same way, all believers have an obligation and responsibility to seek God’s face, maintain a growing relationship with the Lord, and to joyfully submit to the spiritual leadership given to the church as a gift. Practically speaking, if your pastor is doing nothing illegal, immoral, unethical, or unbiblical, then personality conflicts and other petty matters do not constitute grounds for you to undermine, ignore, or subvert God-given pastoral leadership. Do the body of Christ a favor and follow the leader.

Mike. Out.

Discipleship vs. Selfishness

What is the essence of discipleship? What did Jesus intend when He gave us the great commission? I have been feeling for some time now that the church at large has somehow gotten sidetracked from its original purpose. I suspect there could be a variety of reasons for this happening. However, among all the potential causes for the church’s derailment, my gut instinct tells me there was a chief culprit. It is no small coincidence the prime suspect is also the root cause of most, if not all, sin. Selfishness. Somewhere along the way, a little bit at the time, the church has gradually become more and more selfish. Individuals in the body of Christ have gradually given in to the temptation of thinking more and more about themselves and less and less about others. This paradigm shift has many consequences, but there is one aspect that seems to have become more prominent of late. That one aspect is the selfishness that breeds spiritual immaturity and delayed growth. The reason this one aspect of selfishness has become more prominent, in my opinion, is because it affects many other aspects of the church. Let’s examine for a moment how this works itself out in real life.

Have you ever heard of any churches having issues with their music style? Why do you suppose this happens? I’m glad you asked. Every generation has a particular style of music that is contemporary to that particular generation. Many years ago, a church attempted to introduce an instrument into the church to aid in the music program. It was called an organ. This instrument was met with such opposition that after the organ was installed, a group of people sneaked into the church, dismantled the organ from its place in the sanctuary and dumped it into the river. This, by the way, is the same instrument so many people in recent years have fought so vehemently to keep in its place in so many churches. The irony is rich. With the passing of each generation, there is a shift in position. One generation tries to innovate and realize progress while the previous generation fights to keep things as they are. After a few years pass, the generation that was once innovative and progressive becomes the generation fighting against those very things. Why does this happen? Selfishness. People may refuse to let go of things that don’t even belong to them because they would rather be comfortable than reach people with the gospel of Christ in new ways.

Have you ever heard of any churches having issues with their Pastor or staff because they decide to make some changes in the way the church does certain things? Why do you suppose this happens? I’m glad you asked. Whether or not a church is intentional about it, every church is in danger of developing rituals or routines in the way they do things. The true danger here is the longer something is done a certain way, the harder it becomes to evaluate it objectively. When this happens, people get attached to the particular method of ministry instead of getting attached to the mission of making disciples of Jesus. This attachment becomes something of a security blanket of which many people simply refuse to let go. When changes are either proposed or implemented in an area to which they are personally attached, things suddenly become very heated very quickly. Selfishness, in this case, prohibits objectivity in evaluation. Therefore, people begin resorting to rumors, gossip, or personal attacks in an attempt to protect their “pet” ministry because they are simply too selfish to let go of something regardless of how ineffective or out of date it may have become. It is always unfortunate when leaders who have been called and ordained by God are painted as the “bad guys” simply because some people are too spiritually immature and selfish to see the big picture. On the flip side, however, it is equally unfortunate that there have been many ungodly pastors over the years who have gone about making changes in the wrong ways. They have not taken time to build relationships and love people. They have communicated poorly or not at all. The unintended consequence is that now it is sometimes difficult for God’s people to trust their leaders.

These are just two examples, but let me go back to where I started. I began with two questions. What is the essence of discipleship? What did Jesus intend when He gave us the great commission? I believe their answers are inseparable. The essence of what Jesus intended when He commissioned the church was exemplified with crystal clear clarity by the Savior Himself during His earthly ministry. He chose twelve men. In Lecrae’s song “After the Music Stops” he puts it this way: “The teaching is a process it’s not overnight, and it’s not a stage and a mic, it’s life on life. Christ walked with twelve, ate with twelve, taught the twelve, shaped the twelve, invested in them well, you could say that He made the twelve, who made many more, who made plenty more, now it’s on you and me if there’s any more.” You see, the great commission is not about making converts to Christianity. It’s about making disciples of Christ. This means conversion is not the destination, it’s the origin.

Here are the fundamentals of the great commission. Jesus doesn’t command us to go anywhere. He presumes His followers are already going to be on the move. This is explained by the word translated “go” being an aorist participle, which means “having gone,” that is related to the main verb of the sentence. The imperative command of the great commission is to “make disciples of all nations.” Once this is established, Jesus delineates how we are to go about fulfilling His command. We are to baptize those who have professed Christ as Lord in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. We are then to teach them to observe all that He has commanded us. He gives us the confidence we will need to carry out this task by reminding us He is with us always, even to the end of the age. Having a clear understanding of the specific task given to the body of Christ, I should draw a few closing conclusions.

First, the blame for the presence of baby Christians in the church must be laid squarely on the church itself. We have become so preoccupied with making converts (and sometimes not even concerned about doing that) that we have neglected to make disciples. Second, something can and must be done to intentionally re-engage the disciple making process. Finally, the primary solution, I believe, for a problem of this magnitude is the powerful Word of God. I am reminded in Hebrews 4:12 that “the word of God is living and active and sharper than any two-edged sword, and piercing as far as the division of soul and spirit, of both joints and marrow, and able to judge the thoughts and intentions of the heart.” I am further told in Hebrews 5:13-14 that “everyone who partakes only of milk is not accustomed to the word of righteousness, for he is an infant. But solid food is for the mature, who because of practice have their senses trained to discern good and evil.”

I believe it’s time for a change in the menu of the church. I believe it’s time for believers to pray earnestly for the church that it would be actively engaged in fulfilling its divine purpose of disciple-making. Ultimately, I believe it is time for people everywhere who claim the name of Jesus to start feasting on some solid food and grow up. One way this can happen is if men of God will plant their feet, square their shoulders, and proclaim “thus saith the LORD.” In other words, I believe it’s time for Pastors everywhere to preach and teach the whole counsel of God without backing up or backing down.

I have decided…I will.

Soli Deo Gloria.

Mike. Out.

The Pitfalls of People Pleasing

I received an email with a brief devotional encouragement from Dr. Paul Tripp. This particular devotional made quite an impression on me and I suspect it may strike a chord with others as well. So rather than attempt to reinvent the wheel, I am sharing this wisdom with you just as it was shared with me. I pray you are blessed by it just as I was.

“I was a young pastor. I was doing everything I could to develop the teaching gift that God had given me. I knew my preaching wasn’t perfect, and I knew I needed to gain experience, but I wasn’t that bad of a preacher, right?”

“Wrong, at least for one. There was a critical man in our congregation who never seemed to be satisfied with my sermons, no matter how I approached them. One evening he came up to me and said, ‘Paul, your preaching is killing us.’ What a way to start a conversation!”

“It got worse. He handed me a set of tapes and said, ‘I suggest listening to these. Just mimic the preacher on the tapes and that will be better than what we’ve been getting.’ I was crushed. I thought my ministry was over.”

“In the weeks that followed, my preaching got worse. I was fearful and nervous. I stumbled over my words and had little confidence in my content. I would look out on the congregation, and this man was the only one my eyes could see. It seemed impossible for me to ignore his disapproving reactions and avoid his critical gaze.”

“What had happened to me? I didn’t realize it at the time, but I had fallen into the snare of pleasing people. The Bible also refers to this as the fear of man. Proverbs 29:25 says, “‘The fear of man lays a snare, but whoever trusts in the Lord is safe.’”

“It was clear – I had become trapped by my fear of this one man’s opinion. Finally, the oldest lady in our church had had enough. She came up to me after a sermon and said, ‘Paul, I’m convinced someone has gotten to you, and you’re preaching to please that person and not the Lord.’”

“Then she said, ‘Tomorrow, get up, forget that person, and study God’s Word. Preach what God has given you with confidence and joy or we’re all in trouble.’ And with that, she turned and walked out of the church.”

“I was so thankful for her honesty, and obviously am still thankful to this day. Why? Because this little old lady revealed something significant about my heart: under pressure of criticism, I fell into the snare of pleasing people instead of trusting in the Lord.”

“What about you? When you’re mistreated by another person, do you get angry and try to prove them wrong? Do you get intimidated and blindly follow their orders? Do you get wounded and attempt to avoid all future encounters with them?”

“There’s only one place where your heart can be healed, satisfied, and protected. It won’t be healed by exacting vengeance. It won’t be satisfied in human approval. It won’t be protected by hiding.”

“No, your heart will only be healed, satisfied, and protected when you trust in the Lord and follow his Word.”

“God bless,

Paul Tripp”

I could not have said it any better myself.

Mike.  Out.

Perspectives on Leadership

One Sunday afternoon about two years ago I was reading a post on social media from a friend. He had spent many years in ministry serving local churches. He recently took an extended leave from ministry after a challenging situation. I sifted through the details of his post and was shocked by what I was reading. At one point, this brother of mine spent three days in the hospital undergoing a battery of tests to understand some significant physical symptoms he had been experiencing. After receiving normal test results, he was told by his doctor his physical symptoms were stress-induced.

Upon returning home, he received a phone call from a deacon in the church he was serving. This gentleman asked him how he was doing and then proceeded to berate him for having missed three days of work. Yes, that’s right. You heard me correctly. A deacon in the church called the pastor specifically to chastise him for having spent three days in the hospital. The irony of this story is that the behavior of this deacon was representative of what was causing the pastor’s health problems to begin with.

Unfortunately, this type of story is all too common. Pastors deal with a variety of issues and challenges about which the average church member knows nothing. This particular story prompted the writing of this blog post. Why would pastors and churches hurt each other? I mean…aren’t believers supposed to be on the same team? While a variety of answers exist for this question, the two most likely explanations are unbiblical leadership or unregenerate church membership. These are not new concerns. Unfortunately, churches have been dealing with the problem of unsaved church members and unbiblical leadership for quite some time. I am stating this as a reality rather than a supposition because of personal experience and observation. Let me explain what I mean.

I know there are non-Christians masquerading as Christians in local churches all across America. I also know there are pastors who are not following Scripture and the Holy Spirit as their primary sources for leadership in God’s church. How do I know this? I’m glad you asked. It is really quite simple if you think about it. The very fact that conflict exists between pastoral leadership and church congregations demonstrates one of two truths: either the Pastor is not leading biblically and is, therefore, sinning, or the congregation is not following biblical leadership and is, therefore, sinning. Someone is sinning against God in either scenario and it could actually be a combination of the two.

The first scenario looks like this: the pastor is doing everything in his power to follow the leadership of the Holy Spirit of God. He is trying to lead the church to be biblical in every way and to be obedient to Scripture. He meets opposition at every turn because not everyone in the church belongs to Jesus. Therefore, they ultimately don’t follow Jesus’ plan for His church. This explains why they would oppose the leadership of a pastor who is trying to lead them to follow Jesus.

The second scenario looks like this: the pastor is not following Jesus or His Word. Perhaps he is following some clever “church growth” strategy that looks more like friendship with the world than biblical theology. Perhaps he means well, but is simply being tempted by sinful behavior. In this scenario the people of the church desire to follow Jesus and follow the Bible, but their leadership is not heading in that direction. The pastor is possibly more concerned with his own well-being or his own glory than he is with the glory of God and His church.

Both of these cases represent opposite ends of a spectrum. Granted there are a myriad of potential combinations of these two extremes lying in the middle of this spectrum, but it seems the first scenario tends to be more prevalent. In my personal observation (so take it for what it is worth), churches tend to seek pastors who have been seminary trained and educated. Churches also tend to seek pastors with pastoral leadership experience. Finally, churches tend to seek pastors with personalities and backgrounds that fit the culture of the church. It is only after a pastor is called and arrives in his new ministry field that he discovers the “dirty little secret.” The members of the church want him to lead them as long as no changes are required. The subtle truth here is churches call pastors who possess the education, experience, expertise, and spirituality to exert biblical leadership over them, but then they spend a considerable portion of their time opposing the very leadership God has provided.

The bottom line, I believe, is this: every human being is in desperate need of Jesus. Sin causes division regardless of where it is found. Jesus is the solution to the problem of sin. The answer to the Pastor who is not leading according to Scripture is Jesus. The answer to the congregation who is not following God’s ordained leadership over them is Jesus. So the answer to either problem is praying for Jesus to have His way in the hearts and lives of people to the end that the church begins to look and act like the church.Think of what that might look like. Any time a pastor, fully trusting God’s Word and following the leadership of the Holy Spirit, comes to his congregation saying something like, “Brothers and sisters, the Bible teaches us we are to be actively engaged in making disciples of all nations. We need to take that more seriously as a church. I believe we should structure our staff, our facilities, our ministry activities, and our budget to reflect this gospel priority,” the congregation would respond by saying something like, “Amen! Let’s do whatever it takes to reach people with the gospel and help them grow in the grace and knowledge of Christ!”

The observable fact that this is not the norm demonstrates how far the church has drifted from the biblical ideal. We need to work together for the glory of God and the advance of the gospel of Jesus Christ to the ends of the earth.

Selah.

Mike. Out.