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September 2017

Posts from October 2017

It's Not the Victims' Fault! - Why Christians Must Not Ignore the Weinstein Story

For the past week, it seems that every news report, trending topic, and entertainment update has been about the fall of Harvey Weinstein.

Weinstein, along with his brother Bob, founded Miramax and the Weinstein Company.  The multi-millionaire entertainment mogul has numerous Oscars and hit films to his credit. He's been politically active through donations and appearances over the years. Nevertheless, he is trending now not because of his political leanings or entertainment business prowess, but because he has been accused of numerous sexual indiscretions and harassment. 

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Harvey Weinstein - Photo credit: Thomas Hawk via Visual Hunt / CC BY-NC

Actress and director Rose McGowan started this story trending when she went public via Twitter with how Weinstein harassed her. Once she opened this story to the public, many others have shared their stories. 

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Rose McGowan - Photo credit: gdcgraphics via Visual Hunt / CC BY-SA

However, as with any news story featuring prominent people, numerous click-bait stories are developed and responses that either totally miss the point or skew the story by making it about something else. In this case... 

It's Not the Victim's Fault

Some have seen these stories on the news and online and the added public testimonies from other actresses (and some actors such as James Van Der Beek and Terry Crews) and have wrongly tried to minimize what Weinstein is accused of doing. When you hear someone say "Well, where were these women years ago?" or "Why didn't they say something earlier?" the not-so-subtle message is that the women are to blame or at a minimum, they're just joining the crowd and may not truly have a story.

Victims of sexual harassment often do not feel strong enough to go public with their story. There is shame attributed to them by the harasser. There is fear that grows - in this case, fear that careers will end and opportunities lost among other things.

To blame the victim with such statements as "Well, they were asking for it" or "It's Hollywood. That's how things are done" do nothing more than elevate sin as acceptable.

Time Doesn't Heal

Many of the stories coming out now are based on incidents that took place years prior. An abused, harassed young person can and will likely carry the memory of the event throughout life. Time may heal in the sense that it's easier to move forward, but the over-simplification of believing just existing more days will eliminate the pain is unfounded. Some of you reading this know the truth of that. You were abused, attacked, harassed at some point years ago, but even now, at times, that memory comes back. And it's not helpful. 

When I was a young boy of about eight, an older teenage boy attempted to sexually attack me. I won't get into the details, but rest assured that memory of the two of us walking in a field is in high-definition in my mind. Thankfully, my vocal chords were working well and the older friend acquiesced and the stopped. It was dealt with at the time, and nothing was actually done to me, but I was scared and ashamed. Even as a child, I knew something was very wrong. 

Unfortunately, there are others who did not have their incidents end as mine with no physical damage. 

It's Not About Politics

Due to Weinstein's far-leaning liberal political bent and friendships with certain politicians, some have used this story to make it all about politicians and liberal politics. While I am far from a liberal politically, to stoop to using this tragic story as fodder simply for political positioning and proclamation.

Conservatives and liberals alike must understand that voting record does not determine whether sexual sin is present or not. Both ends of the spectrum have far too many abusers in their ranks.

The Church Is Not Immune

Amazingly, some have pushed back when our local church implemented stronger security measures for leaders and volunteers. Yet, there are enough (far too many, actually - and one is too many) examples and stories of pastors, evangelists, teachers, and leaders who have taken advantage sexually of others in the church to warrant such steps. We have all read stories and heard testimonies of those who were abused by conservative, evangelical pastors or Catholic priests, or liberal church leaders. The sins of those claiming their roles as divinely given resonate and must be addressed as well.

It's About Power

What do Weinstein and others like him have in common? There are numerous things, but ultimately it's about power. Whether an older teenager abusing a child, an adult doing so, a stronger man abusing a women, or a pastor, politician, boss, or media mogul, perceived or actual power over the victim leads to the abuse. In the case of Weinstein, the threat of losing roles or having one's script shelved, left some actresses vulnerable to his attacks. While many of the stories coming out now are from superstars who by their own words, escaped the hotel room of the creepy, bath-robe wearing executive without actually having been abused physically, some have shared they were not so fortunate. I fear there are many others who have yet to go public that may have been abused in ways I cannot imagine. And, what about the non-celebrities who did lose their chance by walking out?

Power can corrupt, and often does. When Tom Hanks was asked about Weinstein, he referenced a quote that rings true - "When you become rich and powerful, you become more of what you already are."

It's Ultimately About Sin

Hanks quote is true at so many levels. The Hollywood Reporter ran an interview with Bob Weinstein (here). The title states it clearly "Bob Weinstein Gets Emotional on 'Depraved' Harvey."

Harvey is depraved...and so are all of us. And that is why we need a Savior.

We all like comparative analysis to make ourselves feel better. That's human nature. I mean, "I'm bad, but at least I'm not Weinstein bad," right? Well, hopefully you're not, but that doesn't mean you're not depraved.

The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick; who can understand it? Jeremiah 17:9 (ESV)

There Is Hope

That's the message of the gospel, right? Apart from Christ, the sinful heart cannot change. It cannot be rehabilitated. It cannot evolve. Apart from Christ and transformation through him, sin is excused, blame is shifted, justification of evil reigns. God's great light reveals our darkness and the fact that we cannot fix our problems ourselves. There's not enough therapy in the world to impact this epidemic.

But there is hope, and his name is Jesus Christ.

God promised his children in the Old Testament that he desires and can change the hearts of men.

And I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you. And I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. Ezekiel 36:26 (ESV)

Thankfully, we have a chance at redemption through Christ.

If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. 1 John 1:9 (ESV)

Forgiveness is available and transformation can happen. Yet, while there is no condemnation for those in Christ, consequences remain. For sins such as those being revealed, blanket forgiveness for unrepentant people is not biblical. Yet, willingness to do so is. As for consequences, if found guilty Weinstein (and others as well) must not have their indiscretions ignored or justified. 

For the entertainment industry, the casting couch stories must end today.

Don't Miss the Point of These Stories

So, while you're watching the news or reading the latest trending stories on Twitter, be careful not to miss the real stories here. The world is shrinking thanks to social media. Publicists no longer have complete power of creation when attempting to paint their clients in a good light, when evidence otherwise mounts.

You may not agree with Rose McGowan's politics or worldview or even be a fan of her films, but she should be lauded for her willingness and bravery in bringing this story to light. Others have shared their voices, but many would have likely remained silent had Ms. McGowan not opened up.

She may not desire it, but I'll be praying for her and the others. These are not two-dimensional characters from films. These are real women (and men) who have suffered as victims and their voices must be heard. Prayerfully, action from those with the power to make changes will come. More than a "like" on a tweet is needed.


When You Should Leave Your Church

A few days ago, I posted an article intended for other pastors and church leaders. The article was titled "People Will Leave Your Church - And It Hurts Every Time." It drew a few more clicks than other articles I have written.

I have had a few responses from friends through personal conversations and emails. No one who has contacted me expressed anger, but a few comments focused on "Which one am I in the list?" and "I've learned some things in this journey" from friends who have changed churches.

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While I address the reality that sometimes people leave the local church for good and godly reasons, the previous article focused more on the wrong reasons people leave. So, as a Part 2, here's a list of reasons why it is good to leave a local church. Oh, it still may be painful, but then who said life was to be pain-free?

When You Should Leave Your Church...

  • WORK TRANSFERS - I addressed this in the previous article and whether it is the military or the corporation moving an individual or family, in most cases, it is good to keep one's job and move. We have viewed this as a great mission agency move to new areas of ministry. God blesses in these shifts and also brings new people into communities who will join the local church and serve well. 
  • WHEN HERESY IS TAUGHT FROM THE PULPIT - There are so many "gospels" being preached from pulpits nowadays that often those in the congregation find themselves confused on what is truth and what is opinion. Paul addressed this to the Galatian church (Gal 1:7-9).
  • A DISREGARD TO SCRIPTURE - When church leaders systematically pick and choose passages and doctrines to uphold while ignoring others consistently, a gap in teaching is occurring. In many cases, this will result in the lack of church discipline and compromises on leadership qualifications.
  • WHEN LEADERS SOW DISCORD AND DISUNITY - Unity in the church is difficult, and all churches will struggle with this, but when leaders are sowing the seeds of discord and creating factions, it is time to address how Kingdom work can be accomplished when Christ's commands are ignored. (Romans 16:17)
  • GROSS HYPOCRISY - When lip service is given to the mission and calling of biblical Christianity, but actions do not match such, the church has refused the gospel and the power of God. These churches should shut down for they are a stumbling block to true Christianity.
  • RACISM - Sadly, there remain churches that based on practice and organization do not accept "them" as members or would rather "they" have their own services or churches because it's better that way. Racism disguised as "missional preference" is still racism and must be addressed. If no change occurs (i.e. repentance) then leaving said church is right, for God likely left years prior.
  • UNADDRESSED SIN & UNHOLY LIVING IS TOLERATED - When open sin among church members is ignored, or worse yet excused, the church fails to uphold the truth of Scripture. If the pastors are the offenders, then other pastors, deacons, elders, and church leaders must confront them for the goal of restitution and repentance (1 Tim 5:19-20). If it is a church member, the same is true (Matt 18:15-17). Most people don't like this because it sounds so confrontational (and it is.) Yet, if your church isn't willing to kick you out due to unrepentant sin, it's not worth being a member there.
  • THE MISSION DEMANDS IT - Sometimes, God calls his children to leave the safe place of the home church to serve elsewhere. In some cases, this may be to the uttermost parts of the earth. This is the calling of all Christians actually - to go wherever He calls. Sometimes that calling leaves you in your current community and local church. Sometimes it moves you elsewhere. 

There are right times to leave. None of these center on consumeristic themes or even the "I'm not being fed" mantra so often heard. However, of the ones listed above (and it's not a complete list, I'm sure) there are two where God's calling and glory is celebrated. In those, the mission rises and God is honored. These two times where God calls his people out and they are sent reminds me of the church at Antioch. 

The other reasons actually center on the holiness of God as well. When His church refuses to be holy, biblically grounded, and God honoring, hypocrisy and discord reign. However, even in these cases, leaving the church should not be the first response. Pray through this. Seek God's face. He may just be calling you to the mission that forces you to remain and be a change-agent for his glory within the local body.

 


People Will Leave Your Church - And It Hurts Every Time

Pastor, regardless the size of your church, eventually people will leave.

There are many reasons people leave the local church and you need to be ready.

After over twenty years serving in the same local church, I likely know more former members than current ones. 

For the first decade I served as a pastoral staff member. I was the student pastor, then collegiate pastor, single adult pastor, young married adult pastor, pastor of the thermostat, pastor of mowing the yard, pastor of setting up chairs (that develops one's servant heart), and pastor of miscellaneous.

In 2005, I was called to be the Lead Pastor at the church (the same church) and continue to serve in this role.

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Photo credit: hernanpba via Visual hunt / CC BY-SA

People have been leaving local churches since God birthed local churches. Some left by choice. Others have been escorted out for various reasons (see Acts 5:1-10). Over these last couple of decades (plus all the years prior to my role as pastor) in the local church, these are some of the reasons given as to why people leave. 

  • TRANSFERS - We live in a military city. In addition to the US Navy continually transferring families here and elsewhere. Corporations do the same. Therefore, new members join when they move the area. They end up leaving when their boss moves them. 
  • A NEW PASTOR - When a church calls a new leader, people will leave. New people will join as well. New leadership brings new organization. Things that were emphasized under previous leadership will not be emphasized under the new. 
  • A NEW MINISTRY - Church ministries change over time. In some cases, a new ministry or program is developed that focuses on a certain task or people group. Regardless how biblical the new ministry is, some won't like it. 
  • THE ENDING OF A MINISTRY - Some feel slighted when "their" ministry is no longer supported or promoted by the church. Unfortunately, many people gain their sense of identity and purpose in the ministry role they serve and cannot see that their identity is in Christ, not in the ministry. 
  • NEW STAFF MEMBERS - Personalities don't always mesh and a new staff member (especially if replacing another) may or may not connect well with current members serving in their area of ministry. People follow people, even when they declare they follow God.
  • HURT FEELINGS AND INJURY - This happens in every church. People get their feelings hurt. Inevitably a pastor, leader, or other church member will say or do (or not say or do) something that hurts others.
  • MEAN LEADERS - This goes hand-in-hand with the hurt feelings. There's enough blame to go around. Unfortunately, there often appears to be a shortage of grace.
  • FOR THE KIDS - Whether young children or teenagers, families often shift churches because of how their children are faring in the ministry focused on their age-group. This may be a shift to a para-church youth ministry, or another church. I've been on both sides of this argument. At one point, I was the youth pastor leading the ministry others would move churches to have their students attend. (This was wrong, by the way.) And, I've seen my fair share of families leave for the very same reason. While parents are attempting to do what is best for their children, they unwittingly allow their children to become the spiritual heads of the home by driving where the family worships.
  • NEW IS "BETTER" - Just as many people flock to the Apple Store when a new iPhone is released, there are some who change churches in the same manner. The new church or plant that is younger, more exciting, and features way cooler social media posts is very attractive. Sometimes people leave, but because membership is not valued, you may only discover they left when they start posting about their pastor and new church (and you discover the guy they're talking about is not you.)
  • CHANGING DIVERSITY OF MEMBERSHIP - Unfortunately, this remains true. A wise pastor will lead his church to engage the actual people living in the community and over time, this may shift the racial and economic demographic of church members and attenders. So, yes, racism still exists and while some may never verbalize that as reasoning for leaving, it clearly plays a role. 
  • POLITICS - The local and national political spectrum impacts church membership. This is especially true if church members are politicians. Politics divides. It divides families, communities, workplaces, and churches. 

There are numerous other reasons why people leave. Regardless why, even if legitimate, it hurts. It hurts to see friends move away to other cities. It hurts more to see friends leave hurt, angry, or disillusioned. 

Thom Rainer shares this regarding the ultimate reason people leave...

But all the research studies of which I am aware, including my own, return to one major theme to explain the exodus of church members: a sense of some need not being filled. In other words, these members have ideas of what a local congregation should provide for them, and they leave because those provisions have not been met. (Full Article)

Everybody has ideas of how things ought to be in the church. Most find no issue with letting the pastor know. Yet, when church membership feels like country club membership, pastoral leadership is viewed less as a biblical role by members and more as a temporary director.

Pastors are at times complicit in the erroneous exodus of members. This too must be noted. 

Sometimes God does move members to new places of service in different churches. While God is blamed most often for the move - I've heard many say "I prayed about it and God called us to this other church. In most cases, the reasoning was far from spiritual. Yet in those cases where God truly led, each church was blessed and God was glorified. 

Imperfect people make mistakes and your church is full of those types of people. In fact, pastor, your church is led by one. However, the perfect God we serve continues to use us in his Kingdom work in ways that not only are amazing, but eternally beneficial. 

A backdoor revival may need to occur in your church, but those are rare. Rather, to avoid an unholy exodus, consider these as elements of your leadership not to be left undone:

  • Raise the bar for membership 
  • Communicate clearly your vision for the church
  • Confront dissension quickly and graciously
  • Inform members of the "what" and the "why" regarding change
  • Mentor men
  • Equip families strategically
  • Pray together
  • Celebrate publicly what God is doing in the life of church members
  • Listen well
  • Retire the knee-jerk reactions
  • Pray for your church members

Easy Church Membership Leads to Unengaged Audiences

I have to make a confession.

Years ago, I pushed against what I perceived as difficulty for people to join the local church. It wasn't that I was opposed to membership classes or clarifying belief, it was just that I felt (yeah - pretty weak justification) that membership should be easy. I mean, Jesus didn't offer a required class to people who wanted to follow him, right? He just said "Follow me." That was it. Yet, that wasn't it. To follow Jesus was to abandon all other lords. It was a statement of agreement, submission, and intentional discipleship.

To follow Jesus was much more than just saying "I'm a Christian."

Over time, church membership (especially in the western evangelical world) has become more akin to joining a local club or civic organization. Actually, most churches hold to weaker membership requirements than such groups, so that may not be the best comparison.

I now believe deeply in the necessity of a solid, biblical, systematic membership strategy. At this juncture, it includes a class, but ultimately means much more.

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Why Church Membership Anyway?

This has been a serious question that has come up over the years. Years ago, the response to this question was that in our Baptist church, you cannot vote on anything unless you're a member. To be honest, that's not a compelling reason to join. If that's all membership has going for it, your church likely has deeper issues.

In Mark Dever's book Nine Marks of a Healthy Church, he mentions that most church growth strategists minimize the need for membership. He responds this way...

But I think that this topic is a must for our churches, and for us as Christians today. Church membership is a crucial topic for understanding what Christ is calling us to as his disciples. Joining a church will not save us any more than our good works, education, culture, friendships, financial contributions, or baptism will save us. Non-Christians should not seek to join a church, but to learn more about what it means to be a Christian. (p. 159)

Confessing Christians are not meant to live life alone. The journey of faith and the role of the believer in the family of God is vital. Individualistic Christianity is an oxymoron. Salvation in Christ is individual, certainly. In other words, no one can become a Christian for another, but the calling of God's church is unmistakable.

There are numerous reasons for joining a local church. Dever's book is a good start for details and others exist as well. Dever gives wise insight with his five good reasons for joining a church that proclaims and preaches the gospel and models biblical, Christian living.

  1. To assure ourselves of salvation. Don't misread this. Church membership does not save an individual, but the company of believers is useful for assurance of one's salvation.
  2. To evangelize the world. You can and should talk to friends about Christ. You should live as an evangelist, but the truth is that together much more can be done for global evangelism.
  3. To expose false gospels. There are far too many empty-headed teachers of prosperity gospels and the like in our culture today. Most of these live somewhere in your television or online. The messages of feel-good, self-focused, name-it-and-claim-it, therapeutic pseudo-biblical teaching are everywhere. These charlatans are one of the reasons why many have abandoned organized religion, to the detriment of solid gospel-centric fellowships.
  4. To edify the church. This is a huge reason and one often ignored. The onus is not on what the church member gets, but what is given. Edification, or the building up of other believers is the responsibility of all Christians. This often gets lost in the sales pitches offered by local churches. The results are self-centered audiences seeking entertainment. We are all complicit in this.
  5. To glorify God. Ultimately, you should join a church for the glory of God. Peter's words regarding living holy lives before the pagans is key here (1 Peter 2:12). Jesus referenced his church as a glory to the Father. If he said and did so, then so should we. The church exists for God's glory and our good.

Why A Process of Membership?

I removed barriers to church membership in our church years ago. These barriers were ultimately steeped in traditions that I felt were unhealthy and unneeded. I still push against the need to have new members come forward after a service and stand before everyone to be voted upon by the congregation. It seemed to be an embarrassing moment that offered a vote that was more of a formality than anything else. There were no questions about belief, salvation, doctrinal understanding, etc. It was just "Hey everyone, Bob and Sue want to join our church. All in favor, raise your hand." And that was it.

We did implement a new members' class and that was good. We still have the class, but the scheduling has been so haphazard, the class has lost it's value. That, and the fact that no one-on-one time with pastors or leaders occurs leaves new church members with little more than a filled out notebook and good ideas regarding doctrine and theology, but no action steps.

I now see the error of starting, stopping, rebuilding, and re-emphasizing old models and hoping for different results.

More Members Than Attenders

As a pastor who has been a Baptist for as long as I can remember, I know the adage that church attendance in most churches is about half the number of church membership. I grew up just thinking that was normal. I thought that was how things had to be.

You have 300 in attendance? That means you have somewhere between 600 and 800 members, right?

In most cases.

Some of the largest churches in America boast of their membership numbers, but in most cases, the attendance is far below those numbers. Engaged on-mission members are likely even less.

Why be a member of a church you never attend?

That's a legitimate question. I fear that some remain members in order to have access to a free facility for weddings and funerals. Some see their membership as a right, not a privilege. Some may retain their membership for the opportunity to vote in business meetings. Some are simply physically unable to attend regularly due to health reasons.

Should You Have Fewer Members Than Attenders?

This is the question that pushes against the norms. If membership matters, then shouldn't members be engaged? Shouldn't members have roles and responsibilities? What if the church has deadbeat members who do little more than consume resources?

At some point, membership needs to matter. That means a healthy church may actually have far fewer members than attenders weekly. Whether you have fewer members than attenders is debatable, but a stronger, more healthy view of membership, may result in a smaller number of the committed. 

It's easier to draw a crowd than to develop a congregation. 

What Must Be Required of Members?

Believer's baptism is the first step of obedience for a Christian. The New Testament presumes that all Christians have been baptized. That this is up for debate today forces an ignoring of Scriptural teaching. O.C.S. Wallace wrote of believers who refuse to do the simplest step of obedience as Christians back in 1934 and his words ring true today:

The church has not been given authority to make commandments; it is the duty of the church to obey the commandments already made. It is not the prerogative nor the privilege of any church to modify, minimize or in any way obscure ... any commandment, of Jesus Christ.

To reject the ordinances defined in Scripture for the Christian - baptism or the Lord's Supper should disqualify any individual from church membership. 

Beyond adherence to these commands, expectations among believers in a local body should be clearly expressed and delineated so that new members and current members fully understand. These may vary from church to church, but in most cases, an expectation of attendance, participation in the Lord's Supper, prayer, giving, corporate worship, service, agreement with doctrinal statements, and serving faithfully under pastoral leaders.

Now What?

In addition to an implementation of a Membership Covenant, we will be working to set aside time (likely a full weekend) that requires not only a commitment from leadership, but from those seeking membership for fellowship, introduction to doctrine, beliefs, and structure, fellowship with pastors, and opportunities for immediate buy-in and participation in service. 

Our Challenges

One of the great fallacies of churches is the lack of biblical church discipline. Yet, apart from a biblical foundation for church membership, discipline cannot exist. These go hand-in-hand. 

For our local church the challenge will be perceived implementation of a strategy that won't last. This is due to the fact we have started and stopped so many things in the past. We are paying dearly for lack of consistency.

I believe other churches have experienced similar things.

This shift will impact scheduling, staffing, and the process of bringing in new church members.

Yet, it matters and will be worth it.

When membership is attained by simply filling out a card or even walking down an aisle, the propagation of consumer Christianity continues. Membership requires more. The church should expect more.