You Are Called to Pastor - Do You Really Need Seminary?

I have served in pastoral ministry for almost thirty years. When I surrendered to God's calling as a pastor, I began counting down the months until graduation at the university I was attending. I knew, immediately, that seminary was my next step. This is likely due to the fact I lived in Fort Worth, Texas which was home, at the time, of the largest evangelical seminary in the world (Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary.) My pastor was a student at SWBTS, as were the numerous student pastors who served part-time at the small church where I was a member. In fact, it never occurred to me that seminary was not an option. 

I am currently back at seminary, working toward a Doctor of Educational Ministry at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Kentucky.

So, I would understand if in your reading of this article, you deem me to be biased. I am. I believe seminary education is good and valuable for the one called to pastoral ministry. 

I also understand that it is not a biblical requirement of the office.

Nevertheless, as I have had opportunity to serve in the local church and see young people surrender their lives to what we term "full-time Christian service" there is a trend I have noticed of minimizing the need for theological education. This is not true for all, but there are those who just want to hurry up and get on the field and forego the study.

Do You Have To Go To Seminary to Pastor?

Well, no. You won't find a verse that commands the called out ones to enroll in an accredited school for the purpose of earning a degree. Yet, we must not dismiss this as a viable option for pastors, or in some cases a recommended one.

Dr. Albert Mohler, President of The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary states it this way:

Seminaries, when they are faithful as servants of the church and accountable to the church, training ministers without apology for the churches, and doing so effectively, can offer a pastor the most comprehensive background for ministry that can be put into about a three year period. Now, as I say, I hope every pastor would have at least that much, because I think to really be a skilled preacher of God’s word and a pastor, to continue to grow, most pastors will go beyond that and if not in formal study, at least that better be the investment in how they study on their own.

Yet, we have all heard from those in the local churches who have decried the seminary education for fear that all that training messes with good preachers and makes them ineffective. Well, if you haven't heard that type of talk, you haven't been around many of our smaller congregations who struggle with the sending off for educational purposes.

Southern-Seminary
The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary - Louisville, KY

In some cases, these complaints are valid. In fact, in Baptist life just a few decades ago, the great fear was becoming a reality. Biblically-based, theologically conservative institutions were not just leaning, but running quickly to the left and disavowing the veracity of Scripture as inerrant. While many Baptist colleges and universities were lost to the cultural shift, the six Southern Baptist seminaries were reclaimed through what has become known as the conservative resurgence.

Therefore, over the past few decades, much like many years ago, the ministerial training offered at our seminaries has proved to be quality, biblically-sound, and effective. Of course, there will always be small exceptions, but by and large, this is the what God has provided, all to his glory, in our schools.

Pastoring Without Seminary

Yet, there are many godly men serving in pastoral ministry who do not have seminary degrees. These are not unlearned men. They are wise and biblically sound. 

Matt Chandler, Pastor at The Village Church, is one such man and has addressed this clearly. He states:

I have been asked recently about what my thoughts are concerning seminary and why I never finished. I have found this to be a very polarizing subject where people put me in the camp of those who think that seminary is unnecessary or put me into the other camp that thinks scholarship isn't important for the pastorate. The truth is I think most men need to go to seminary and scholarship is extremely important. 

There is a recent trend of really sharp, entrepreneurial, driven men skipping seminary all together and planting churches. I don't have a problem with this at all if those men have picked up the tools they need in other places and are continuing to grow theologically and philosophically. If a guy can handle the Greek and Hebrew, knows at least at the cursory level Christian history and can wrestle through and find answers for deep, difficult theological questions then he might not need a degree from a seminary. These men are usually driven, avid studiers and readers by nature. If they could, they would spend their whole day with the scriptures as well as with men like Calvin, Luther and Spurgeon. I said might because seminary then becomes an obedience issue between him and the Lord and may still be a very good idea.

On the other hand, if you don't have the tools, have a tendency to be lazy in study, can't handle the languages, know nothing of how to find answers to deep, difficult theological questions except to quote John Piper and know nothing of our rich history then you need to go get some tools. If you are lazy in study and continue to get in front of people and teach, you have much more courage than I do. I would strongly recommend seminary for its accountability and plan to educate you in doctrine, language and history.

Speed Doesn't Justify Poor Theology

Dr. M. David Sills has written an incredible book titled Reaching and Teaching: A Call to Great Commission Obedience. As a former field missionary overseas and now as a seminary professor, he brings great insight into the flawed model of ministry that offers little discipleship training and provides empty titles for those determined to be leaders.

With a desire to reach the unreached, we have unfortunately turned previously reached groups into unreached groups while ultimately seeking to speed the return of Christ (as if we actually can manipulate God to adjust a time he already has set.) Yes, reaching the unreached is a mandate. It is biblical. It is right. Nevertheless, as Dr. Sills states, "The great missiological error of our day is the mistaken notion that the Great Commission equals reaching the unreached."

Reaching and discipling are not synonyms. (TWEET THIS)

The great tragedy of the world is not that it is unreached; it is that it is undiscipled. Jesus commanded us to make disciples, not just to get decisions.

Sills continues in a recent article posted on the International Mission Board site...

Theological preparation is necessary to plant the pure seed of the gospel in the soil of the target culture rather than simply bringing a potted plant that is indigenous to the missionary’s home culture.

Yet, a degree from a theological seminary may not be necessary, and in fact, some seminaries might do more harm than good. But every missionary must have a masters degree from the School of Christ, no matter how or where he gets it.

Missionaries would be wise to go to the best seminary they can find, one that teaches sound theology and biblical missiology, and get all the education they can in preparation before deploying to the nations.

If God opens the door before they actually graduate, then by all means they should follow his guidance and go. The Lord knows what each missionary needs to do all he has planned for him or her to do, and he also knows what the world needs.

Make sure you hear the still, small voice that says, “This is the way, walk in it,” and then obey that call as if souls depended on it. You shouldn’t run before you’re ready any more than you should delay once you are. God’s timing is not ours. If he hasn’t yet said, “Go now!” then get all the education you can get while you’re home.

Planters, Pastors, and Missionaries in Hurry Up Mode

As we have mentored and coached young ministers and pastors over the years, a few challenges have arisen. In some cases, a person surrenders later in life (when it comes to schooling, this may mean over age 30) and while working a full-time job and seeking to raise a family, deem theological education as not being an option. While some, as in Chandler's case, may rightly continue serving without any training, others drastically need coaching.

When there is an urgency to hurry up and get to work in the ministry, things often do not go well. Don't get me wrong, God remains sovereign and can work through anyone willing to serve. I'm not negating his power or call. Yet, I have seen unteachable people rush to service only to do more harm than good for the kingdom.

Sills states "If God opens the door before they actually graduate, then by all means they should follow his guidance and go." I agree, but I also have seen some vibrant newly surrendered ministers and missionaries who actually forced the door open. In these cases, undone work remains undone. 

In these cases, it's really not about seminary or continued education. It is about having a teachable and learnable spirit. 

If he hasn’t yet said, “Go now!” then get all the education you can get while you’re home.

Patience is a pain, but it's a virtue too, right? In the waiting, God prepares and provides. Seminary and theological training are not tools to cool one's passion for the gospel. It is a gift of God. We should remember that and take it to heart.

And, just as a building with the name church on it does not make it a viable option for education and worship, neither does an institution with a name college, university, or seminary mean it's a good option. That being said, I'm glad to say that as a Southern Baptist pastor, I can wholeheartedly recommend our seminaries for those called into ministry, for the furtherance of their training. I can, and do. We live in an era where quality theological training does not mean uprooting one's family and moving across the country (though it could.) Distance learning is provided by all our schools, and depending on the region one lives, most likely an off-campus site is available in a short driving distance. If not, then by all means move. As God calls, he provides.

Our SBC seminaries:

 


When There's Really Nothing To Say

Have you ever found yourself in a situation where there just wasn't anything to talk about? For some, the answer is a resounding NO, because there always seems to be something to talk about, right? The weather, your fantasy team, politics, etc. Small talk is doable in just about any situation. It's not always helpful or desired, but at least it's an option. 

Navigating Silence

Years ago, one of my ministry interns shared with me that people cannot handle silence. He apparently read a report that stated seven seconds of silence was about the extent of non-noise that could be dealt with, especially in the western world. I'm sure there's scientific research to back that up, but as we would take ministry trips and work together, we would often (unbeknownst to the other) attempt to break the seven-second rule (this is different from the three-second rule that allows you to eat a Cheeto that fell on the floor, as long as it wasn't there over three seconds.) For the most part, it seems he was correct.

Michael Landers, the director of Culture Crossing, a global consulting organization, wrote about this phenomena...

There’s an experiment that I like to do in my workshops in which I pause after completing a thought, as if I’m contemplating my next statement. But instead of taking a one- to two-second pause, I remain silent for about five to seven seconds – and I observe what happens with my audience. In the US, the majority of the audience starts to cough, laugh, talk to themselves out loud, and get wiggly in their seats right around the three-second mark. The signs of discomfort just increase as the time passes. Afterward, I ask the audience how my silence made them feel. For many, it’s excruciatingly awkward. (Full story here.)

When Silence Is All You Have

Despite the seven-second rule and the illustration above, there are times when there really is nothing to say, and saying nothing may be best. See Proverbs 10:19.

I cannot help but think about our story (my wife, Tracy and me) when it comes to communication with family. As many know, we have been living through a season of what may best be called "prodigalism" in reference to the story from Luke 15.

It is a challenging and stressful time, but as I have heard from many dear friends, church members, and other pastors and ministers, our circumstance is not as much an exception as we'd wish. Trusting God that our story will parallel the one in Luke 15 one day, we wait (sometimes impatiently) believing and realizing that as God works for His glory in our loved one, he is doing the same in us. 

8007297317_367fc8d550_c
Photo credit: E. Watson via VisualHunt.com / CC BY-ND

As I have counseled with Christians with family members and friends who, by their own admission, have no need for Christianity, the church, or biblical perspectives, some common desires that arise.

  • Most desire a quick fix that will draw their loved one back to God.
  • Most desire a strategy that will make their loved one behave according to their desires.
  • Most just want their loved one believe in and surrender to Christ.
  • Most just want to "go back" to the way it used to be...without realizing that going back is not possible and even if it were, apart from heart transformation, the end result would be the same.
  • Most want to know what to say when they're together at the holidays or other occasions. 

Yet, here's what we know to be true.

  • There is no quick fix, especially if human in nature.
  • Any strategy that seeks to simply change another's behavior tends to leave out God and create a false contentment.
  • This is a wonderful desire, but we must remember that God alone draws people to himself. He will likely use family and friends in the process, but it is God who does this.
  • There are no flux capacitors and DeLoreans available.
  • And...sometimes there is just not much to say.

It is clear for us that we have more in common and more to talk about with a version of our loved one from the past (which based on the flux capacitor truth listed above, does not exist) than currently. 

This is true for many. In our case, when we were told "I just don't believe the way you do" it floored us. This was a statement regarding theology and world view. How did this happen? When did the belief structure shift? Why did we not notice it earlier? These and other questions arose, but even discovering answers to these questions did not change the reality that our family had a world view schism.

All the sudden, that which used to be discussed and enjoyed together disappeared. 

Simple things like sports, football, basketball, baseball, favorite athletes, past times, movies, television shows, entertainment choices, favorite actors and actresses, and especially politics were at polar opposites.

Simple family discussions over dinner began to feel like debates. 

I was accused (rightly so) of alway preaching. I confess, I'm a preacher. I preach. However, I should have not done so over dinner. I forgot the "2 ears and 1 mouth" principle that states we should listen twice as much as we talk.

As I reflect on the past few years, as the divide became evident and seemingly widened overnight, I realize now how much I did talk (preach) initially with a sense of urgency and a hope to fix things. Guilt over missed opportunities and lack of intentional family worship grew. Accusations of failure swam throughout my mind. I said some things that were amazingly wise and timely (obviously from God's lead, not my intellect,) but there were also things that were sinful and angry (these would be the things God didn't lead me to say.) I regret this greatly. 

Yet, here we are. God remains faithful. I trust God in ways I could not truly express prior, due to now having been in those valleys (and still there at times.)

Holidays come and go. That means family gatherings will happen. Communication with our loved one  is not shut down, but it is surface-level mostly. It has come to my realization that there just isn't much to talk about.

This is not passive aggressiveness. It is just the reality that common interests, common faith, and common world view allow for deeper, more meaningful conversations. When those elements are not congruent, the challenges for deeper conversations are more intense.

Honestly, it is easier to talk to someone with far different views in these key areas to whom you are not related. At least that has been my experience. It seems that the closer the relationship should be, the wider the divide when world views and faith are not shared.

But, there's hope...

I re-read the Luke 15 passage and am encouraged each time. The story culminates with the prodigal returning home. There's not much information on what the dad did during the separation, but what is expressed is his steadfastness and faithful expectation. May I be like that man. I pray if you are in a similar story (whether a parent, sibling, or friend) that you will be like him as well. 

So, when you have nothing to talk about, talk to the One who loves your loved one more than you. Pray. You may experience more awkward dinners and family gatherings. You may simply get a random text message and emoji. You may, sadly, not hear from your loved one for quite some time. Every story is similar in some ways, but unique in so many others. Through the uniqueness of your story, remember the common factor that never changes - God and His love. 

When there's nothing to say, listen to God. He speaks through His Word. Then, in prayer, you will find that you can talk to God about your loved one in ways that are helpful, hopeful, and healing. This is the good news. 


Marriage, Divorce, and Christianity

Last Sunday as we continued our sermon series through the Gospel of Matthew, we focused on Matthew 19:1-12. The issue of divorce is something  that is often tip-toed around in the church, for fear of offending someone or eliminating leadership within the church body. When the church becomes more therapeutic than gospel-focused, often the hard teachings of Christ are either ignored or avoided. 

Breakup-divorce-separation-relationship-couple

As I have ruminated on the message from Sunday, which is now available on podcast, our website and app, I believe this is a major issue for Christians today. So...some points from the message...

We can rightly say in our nation today the two elements, though legal for years, that ultimately have impacted families and communities most negatively are abortion-on-demand and no-fault divorce. (TWEET THIS)

No one avoids the impact of divorce in our culture. Everyone knows someone - family member, co-worker, fellow student, friend, or self who has either been divorced. The pain is real and yet, the church has a responsibility to address divorce, just as Christ did. There are ultimately two things the church must do when addressing divorce among Christians. David Platt reminds us of these two elements in his commentary on the Gospel of Matthew. The church must...

  1. Comfort in love
  2. Confront with truth

Unfortunately, the church sometimes misses one element and focuses on the other. To comfort without confrontation is to ignore the teachings of Christ and the holiness of God and his design for marriage. To confront without comfort is to slide into legalism which celebrates punishment while ignoring biblical discipline.

REALITY FOR DIVORCEES IN CHURCH

When it comes to church and divorce, many fellowships have been fractured. Old church photo directories reveal that those smiling couples in the posed Olan Mills images are no longer together. This creates tension in the church as newly divorced man or woman may struggle with where to go to Sunday School. For those who have been part of the couples class for years, they now wonder if they're welcome. While they likely will be, the very real feeling of "I don't belong" develops. Even churches with solid, vibrant single adult ministries often discover a challenge of actually reaching out and welcoming those who, by no choice of their own, are now single because of divorce. Others may have issues of remaining friends with both parties, or neither. This has been echoed by many since Sunday. If the couple was friends with another and then they go through divorce, the dynamic is gone and there's tension where there wasn't before.

Lost sheep are often created due to such.

The church may not respond as many expect, if at all.

Sometimes, the divorcee feels the need to either quit church or go elsewhere simply because he or she just doesn’t want to answer “Where’s your spouse?” question any longer from the many who apparently didn’t notice the ring was no longer on the finger. This, too, is not just an imagined occurrence. It happens. It has happened.

Often when a Christian is contemplating divorce he/she first contacts a divorce lawyer. No disrespect to my family lawyer friends and church members, but this represents a tragic reality. Biblical counsel should be sought. At times, one or both of the spouses may be unwilling. Yet, reconciliation remains the first goal.

CONFUSING DEFINITIONS OF MARRIAGE

Things that seemed certain for generations have been questioned. Some debated. Others changed. As we look to the only word that has remained unchanged, inerrant, and useful for teaching, we see Jesus confronting the very same thing in the first century that must be addressed in the 21st century.

Cultural norms do not determine truth. (TWEET THIS)

Regarding marriage, once you strip away politics, dumbed down definitions, and varying developments regarding redefinition, it is declared to be true in God’s Word that God is the one who defined marriage. It was not defined by cultural norms. It was not created as a way to fulfill treaties. Marriage was not just the legal affirmation of a union of two (or more) people.

When the Pharisees, who were legalists in many areas, sought to trap Jesus once more with Bible questions, asked about marriage and divorce, they were attempting to trap him or lead him into saying something that could be used against him as they planned his downfall.

Yet, his answer to the question “Is it lawful to divorce one’s wife for any cause?” is met with wisdom and biblical affirmation.

In case you didn’t catch the key phrase here “for any cause” – that’s the first century version of no-fault divorce.

God created marriage. He defined it as being between one man and one woman. While there are numerous occasions, especially in the Old Testament where polygamy is seen, even among the faithful, do not mistake that God’s design and desire is for one man – one woman for life. Sinful men have messed that model up from the beginning.

Jay Adams, one of the preeminent biblical counselors today shared this in his book Marriage, Divorce and Remarriage in the Bible

If marriage were of human origin, then human beings would have a right to set it aside. But since God instituted marriage, only he has the right to do so. Marriage as an institution is subject to the rules and regulations set down by God. Individuals may marry, be divorced, and be remarried only if, when and how, he says they may without sinning. The state has been given the task of keeping orderly records, but it has no right or competence to determine the rules for marriage and for divorce. That’s God’s prerogative.

The healthy Christian marriage is not only something defined by God, but described by God as a covenant relationship. This is much deeper than a contract and while breakable for a small category of reasons, even then it should be avoided if at all possible.

THE LIE OF "FALLING OUT OF LOVE"

The modern understanding of marriage is that of an agreement that will begin at a wedding and last until one of the spouses “falls out of love.”

Falling out of love is a ridiculous concept. It’s not a biblical reason. It’s not even a biblically viable truth. The only reason “falling out of love” is deemed real is because humanity has worked for centuries to excuse and justify sin and when marriage is viewed as a partnership that will remain only as long as I “feel” loved and appreciated, by my own definitions of those words, I’ll remain married. Otherwise, get out and start over.

“I just don’t love her anymore” has been said far too many times by Christian men whom should be smart enough not to even think that.

Love is a choice.

Love is a commitment.

Love for husband and wife, regardless of how one feels, should be the one thing that can be counted on.

Yet, it’s not.

WHAT IS MARRIAGE?

Marriage is the uniting of two sinners in a holy, covenant relationship for the glory of God. This union is attacked by Satan from the get go. There’s no “honeymoon” when it comes to spiritual attack.

Divorce is always the result of sin.

Divorce is almost always sinful. There's a qualifier here for the very few times that God allows it. Yet, even in the allowance, there should be hope for reconciliation. 

BUT, BUT, BUT...

There are so many questions that result from this passage. Questions like “Is it infidelity if…?” and “What about abuse?” and “What if my needs aren’t being met?” and so on.

There are allowances for divorce, but perhaps as the Pharisees asked the question, we see ourselves asking the same. And this is where we’re wrong to start. Maybe the question shouldn’t be “What are the allowances for divorce?” and should be “What are the ways of reconciliation?”

OUR PRAYER

Our prayer is for... 

  • the single, never married adult
  • the divorcee and still single
  • the one who was cheated on and left
  • the one who cheated and left
  • the couple who live in the same house, but separately because it’s cheaper
  • the couple who are faithful now, but have chapters in their past including divorce and exes
  • the couple living together (sinfully) acting like they’re married, but not
  • the senior adult couple living together acting married, but not because they don't want to lose their Social Security benefits
  • the couple who are married, faithful, and together

...Remember that God created marriage, designed it to be holy and glorifying to Him. Love is a choice. If you have made sinful choices, repent of those and seek forgiveness. For the married husband and wife - stay faithful to God and each other.

It is not easy to be holy, but it is doable through Christ.

May all our relationships honor God and bring him glory. 


What About the Lost Sheep Who Wants to Be Lost?

I have been preaching through Matthew's gospel account and recently I shared of Jesus' instructions regarding the lost sheep and how the shepherd leaves the ninety-nine in the flock who are safe to go find the one that is lost. 

It's a challenging passage and raises many questions.

What do you think? If a man has a hundred sheep, and one of them has gone astray, does he not leave the ninety-nine on the mountains and go in search of the one that went astray? And if he finds it, truly, I say to you, he rejoices over it more than over the ninety-nine that never went astray. So it is not the will of my Father who is in heaven that one of these little ones should perish. - Matthew 18:12-14 (ESV) 

Who is the lost sheep?

The lost sheep in this parable is a new believer, a member of the flock that has strayed. That much is clear.

Is the one more important than the ninety-nine?

No, that's not the point of the passage. The ninety-nine are believers. They are together. They are in community. They are safe. 

Why leave the ninety-nine alone?

Even today, if Middle Eastern shepherds know they need to be away from their flock for an extended period of time, they will likely get a friend or relative to watch over the flock. Yet, the point of this passage and word from Christ is that God values each and every person. No one is worth less than another. The shocking story was shared by Jesus to his disciples to emphasize that they are not to devalue any person and should seek to keep unity among the believers, for the good of the church and the glory of God.

This story is to motivate and encourage the church. The message is clear - God loves his children. We should, too.

Handful-grass-fields-meadow-ants

I am reminded of a dog my wife and I used to own. He was a small black poodle (not Max, our current wonder-dog) and he loved to get out of our back yard. He would get out and start walking. He would "follow his nose" and loved to discover new scents. However, he wasn't the sharpest dog I've ever known. I'm no dog whisperer, but this guy would walk away for blocks and eventually look up. When he looked up, he would be far from home. I imagine in his little dog brain he was thinking "Uh...where am I?" We'd look for him, but when we couldn't find him, we'd wait until a neighbor, or like one time, the workers at Jiffy Lube in Orange Park, to call us. Our number was on his collar. We'd go pick him up. All was good. He was home.

We were happy. He was happy. He didn't desire to be lost. He jus strayed away.

The lost sheep (not poodle) in the church are like this. They stray. They lose focus. They begin listening to the lies of the enemy and start agreeing with the lies. Sometimes, those lies sound like "You don't matter. You're worthless. No one at this church loves you. No one loves you." When the lie is taken for truth, straying results.

These are lies. 

But, what about the sheep who wants to be lost?

Sometimes people walk away from church and the community of believers and do so intentionally. 

Sometimes people want to believe the lies. They refuse the grace of God. They refuse to acknowledge brothers and sisters in Christ to step out of their comfort zones to reach out and connect. They're not forgotten by others, but they believe they are. 

It is true that we need to not forget the lost sheep, but what about that sheep who has seeks to remain lost, for various reasons?

The passage in Matthew that follows the lost sheep story speaks of conflict and discipline. The focus is on the sin of Christians and how the church must respond.

It is sin for the church to ignore the lost sheep. Yet, it is also sin for the lost sheep to desire separation and lostness. It is sinful to continually ignore the draw of the Holy Spirit and to grieve him.

Running from God is different from straying away. Many who have run attempt to declare their just lost sheep. That's not true, they're rebellious sheep. In those cases, discipline from God's church is needed. Sometimes, even excommunication is the required response.

That seems extreme, but it's right. It's holy. 

Pray and Remember Your Role.

It is God who draws. It is Christ who has come to seek and save the lost. He invites us into this great story, but ultimately, he does the rescue. We, the church, must not ignore our calling. We must be obedient. Yet, we must also be wise to discern the difference between a lost sheep who has strayed and one who is running from God.

In the case of the latter, I think of the story of the prodigal son. In that case, the son never lost his title as child, but the father remained home. He apparently prayed and waited. Eventually, the lost son came home. He "woke up" from his rebellion and shifted into "lost sheep" status. He realized he was being drawn home. 

Prayer is not a weak, passive response to those who stray. It is the active role we must take, especially when we find the lost sheep and he/she has no desire to be found...yet.

Remember, God knows the details. He is in control.


She Walked Away from Church Wounded, Ready to End Her Life. But, Then...

I received this email from a member of our church yesterday. I asked permission to share the information in this blog post, believing it may be helpful to others who have felt alone, empty, and forgotten, not to mention those who have lived with scars and wounds brought on by sexual abuse and harassment. She said I could share and that hopefully, someone will be helped. 

WARNING: Some of the information below is graphic.

The story is from a woman who has been an active member of our church for years. She is a self-described introvert of sorts. She has served in various areas of ministry for seasons in the past, but last year (2016) she stopped attending church regularly. She has carried deep wounds from her past and has struggled with understanding her value to God and his church, and to others. The enemy's lies and accusations have weighed heavily upon her for years. Last year, she almost ended her life, believing the lies of the enemy that that would be best.

Woman-desperate-sad-tears-cry-depression-mourning-2

Thankfully, God has rescued her from that moment and continues to do so. Her email was shared with me after she shared it with her counselor. I have edited it for brevity and eliminated names as needed.

On Sunday, October 15, 2017, Pastor David preached a sermon from Matthew 18:10-14. This word from Christ references the lost sheep and how the shepherd rejoices when it is found.
 
Pastor David talked about our church. He talked of the ones who have been active, but would be described as introverted in personality.  He talked of the ones who are part of the church, but never really talk or share much in small groups. These are the ones who attend and are active, but just keep to themselves. The he shared what happens often. One Sunday, they are not there. They miss a small group meeting once. Then another. And before you know it, they aren't attending regularly, if at all.  Those who know them began to wonder about them and yet, that's all. They wonder, but no one thinks enough about them to see where they are or what is happening in their lives. 

Pastor David shared of a student he once had in youth ministry. This young lady was very active in the youth group and the church. She was there whenever the doors were open, so to speak. She attended camps and even went on mission trips. when he was a youth pastor. Then, one day, she was not there. That one day led to many. Pastor David later ran into her in a local store where she was working. He said, "It’s been a while since I’ve seen you. We’ve missed you at church."
 
She responded, "I've been gone. I'm like that lost sheep. Why was no one looking for me?"

This sermon had me thinking about what was going on during my recent nine months of not attending church at First Baptist Orange Park. This was kind of how I felt.  I felt lost and believed no one cared enough at FBC to come looking for me. In truth they did come looking for me. I know people are busy and they have their own lives and I was the furthest thing from their minds. It was completely okay, I made the choice to leave. (Please know that these are the lies I was believing at the time.)
 
Reflecting back on 2016: It was a hard year. Suicide has been something that I had thought about in the past, but never really acted upon. Yet, during this season, I actually did more than think about it. I took a step further because I planned out my suicide with detailed plans of how I would do it. If not for not having the one tool I was going to use to finish it, I may have. Things would be much different now for my family. 
 
My selfish thoughts were:
  • No one cares.
  • My family will be better off if I wasn’t around any more.
  • My husband can find a better wife who will take care of him and the children.
  • Others who know me will forget all about me within moments of me being gone - as if I never existed anyway.

These were just some of the thoughts I was having that led up to that day in May 2016. On that day, I shared with a friend and due to this friend's care, I was actually Baker Acted. My friend apparently cared too much for me to see me die.

Following my time in the hospital, I felt as if I was branded by society with labels - weak, gives up easily, worthless, no good, doesn’t belong here. It was one shaming title after another.

Going through the motions of life became more and more challenging because the darkness kept taunting my thoughts. The shaming pressure that I kept putting upon myself. I was listening to the lies, and ignoring the voice of God that speaks clearly through his Word.

I was keeping tragic memories alive. I was living in the wounds of the past. It was painful, but I was recollecting all that was done to me as a little girl. That girl (me) seemed like someone else, but I knew it was me and I could not find healing.

I was that little girl, living in shame from being sexually abused for nine years.

As I began to think about all that had happened to me and began to blame that little girl (myself) for the abuse. I forgot what she had to endure to survive. How she was told to respect her elders, no matter what.

"Do as your told with no arguing or discussing."

"Speak only when your spoken too and preferably, not at all."

This little girl was not a rule breaker, for the most part. She did as she was told, at times she would show her true colors and act out. However, for the most part though she just did what the adult told her to do.

The adult, the authority, would lay down  next to me.

"Take off your shirt. Let me have your hand. Touch me here and move your hand this way. This is our little secret. This is our precious time. You are so beautiful. You need to hurry up. Go faster. Stop wasting time. Your doing it wrong. Let me show you how to massage. Spread your legs."

As he began to "massage" her in ways that no man other then her future husband should be touching her. She just followed directions. She did not want to get in trouble.

These words and so many others are like are like broken record in my thoughts. I have visions or flashbacks of different experiences from my childhood like this. They haunt me and have kept me in bondage.  

In the past, I would just find ways to punish myself by cutting or not eating.

It was the only way I could find control when it seemed like everything was out of control.

These choices are no longer an option.

I have chosen to work through my past and the pain that was inflicted upon me. In the past, I had chosen to stay stuck at times because it was too much to take on.  I had chosen to turn away from God because I believed the lies of the enemy that I was no good and just a waste of his time.

Hearing these lies on a continuous basis, somehow they felt like truth. Over time, going to church and hearing and singing about how great is our God and how awesome he is felt like torment within my spirit.

The battle between what I was raised to believe and what I was experiencing became too overwhelming and the only thing I knew to do was walk away from the church. I knew I was to far gone and was not able to be healed.

At least that is what I thought I knew.

Thank God he had a different plan and the same friend who made the phone call to have me Baker Acted also took me under her wing. She mentored me and took me to her church. They prayed with me and guided me through so I could stand once again.

I'm learning to ask for forgiveness when I fall short, instead of remaining paralyzed with self-affliction or condemnation. I'm believing God and his Word and trusting him.

I’m no longer an abused victim. No one is causing pain or purposely hurting me. The only one that has kept the past alive is me and it is time to put that time to rest. It is time to say good-bye to a man that caused so much confusion and pain in my young life. I'm learning what biblical forgiveness is. I now see that I have lived a life of blame - blaming others and blaming myself, and in so doing, finding no healing. 

Today (October 22, 2017) our church, First Baptist Church of Orange Park will be singing at the Orange Park Fall Festival at the Town Hall grounds. We will be singing "Trust In You."

Shelvin, Lamb, our Worship Pastor, has a way of picking songs that go to the core of your soul. Sometimes these songs are so hard to sing because of the bondage that I have chosen to live within. This makes it hard to speak truth when you allow lies to feel like truth.

I’m learning to trust in Him. It is a daily challenge, but as each day that goes by He continues to show me how much He loves, cares, and cherishes me even when I do not. He draws near to the broken-hearted. He brings rest to the weary. His promises are truth and He will never break them.

So today, I am praising God for being my shepherd. For bring the right people in my life at the right time to minister and pray with me as I went through the struggles of 2016.

This year has been a learning experience and with that, painful at times. As always, God knows what we need and He continues to meet our needs. This sheep strayed for a while, but because of who He is, she has found her way back home. I love my First Family and missed being part of the choir so much. Thankful that they welcomed me back.

What do you think? If a man has a hundred sheep, and one of them has gone astray, does he not leave the ninety-nine on the mountains and go in search of the one that went astray? And if he finds it, truly, I say to you, he rejoices over it more than over the ninety-nine that never went astray. So it is not the will of my Father who is in heaven that one of these little ones should perish.  - Matthew 18:12-14 (ESV)


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.

Magazine-person-church

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.

9297447441_edd3c85754_c
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

Why We Need the Nashville Statement & Why I Signed It

There's really nothing new in the Nashville Statement, but there is need for it.

On Tuesday morning, August 29, the Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood (CBMW) released a statement, signed initially by over 150 evangelical Christian leaders. Once the statement went public, it was expectedly met with both praise for its clarity and denouncements for ... well, it's clarity.

Nashville statement

I received a text last night from my friend Christopher Yuan who served as part of the team of leaders who put the statement together. Others such as Albert Mohler, John Piper, Russell Moore, Denny Burk, James Merritt, J.D. Greear, Mac Brunson, Jackie Hill Perry, H.B. Charles, Jr., Ligon Duncan, R.C. Sproul, Sam Allberry, Rosaria Butterfield, Robert Gagnon, and many others also served on the team. For many, these names may not be familiar, but for Christian leaders and pastors, most names listed here and on the website's "Signers" page, are known as men and women who risk much for the sake the Gospel, especially when confronted with changing cultural norms. 

Christopher asked if I had seen the statement and if I would sign it. I responded that I read it soon after release and while I was attempting to sign it, the website was having issues at the time. Fortunately, I was able to complete the signature last night as many others have. I'm sure the site will be updated with more names as the days go by. It seems the servers may have been a bit bogged down with the heavy viewership and attempted registrations.

The Need for Clarity

Why is there a need for this statement? Is there anything in the articles that differs from historical, biblical Christianity? The simple answer is NO, there's nothing new in the statement regarding biblical truth. Yet, as the Preamble to the statement makes clear...

Evangelical Christians at the dawn of the twenty-first century find themselves living in a period of historic transition. As Western culture has become increasingly post-Christian, it has embarked upon a massive revision of what it means to be a human being.

Cultural shifts in what is good, bad, fair, unfair, right, and wrong have led to a need for clarity among Christian leaders. This is not new for Christ's church. In all cultural settings throughout history, the church has been mandated by God to declare His truth clearly, concisely, lovingly, graciously, and without apology.

The CBMW was founded three decades ago and rightly affirmed the biblical narrative that God created man and woman in His image. The CBMW stated clearly that God designed men and women, as image-bearers of himself, to equal in personhood and human dignity, yet different from and complementary to one another. Christian husbands, as delineated in Scripture, are called to lead their homes through self-denial and sacrificial love. In addition to the home, within the church, men are called by God to be pastors in leading the church. In 1987, the CBMW released the Danvers Statement declaring belief in complementarianism.

As Ligon Duncan put so clearly...

The Nashville Statement is a complement to Danvers, but it speaks into issues of human sexuality. Danvers addresses the respective roles of men and women in the home and church. Nashville articulates the Bible’s teaching on important and disputed aspects of human sexuality. 

Clarity from the church is needed now more than ever. There are many voices in our culture (even within the church) speaking contrary "truths" or "truthisms." In such a world (as has always been the case) the church must speak Truth in love, as God's Word declares.

Albert Mohler states...

In a time of confusion, one of the greatest gifts that can be given to and by Christ’s church is clarity, and clarity requires at times that matters of truth, matters of truth in particular times of trial, should to be put into words in order to bear the testimony of that clarity. 

The Nashville Statement includes fourteen statements of belief, or articles. As with other manifesto statements such as this, there are delineated affirmations and denials. 

The statements declare God's order of creation, his intention, his unmistakable design, and order as he desires. Affirmations and denials are based on Scriptural foundations, albeit from the perspective of inerrantists (of which I am included.)

As churches seek to show the love of God clearly in grace and love to others, the clear statements of who we are in Christ and the foundational truths of Scripture provide guidelines and guardrails as others seek to bend truth or change it completely to fit better in a culture opposed to Christ.

The Push Back

Those opposed to the Nashville Statement are not declaring lack of clarity on the part of the writers. In fact, they're decrying the clarity expressed. The push back was expected. Social media, as if often the case nowadays, has become the venue for statements of disgust, disagreement, and in some cases, attacks and hateful and grotesque speech focused upon signers and the CBMW. In some cases, the comments end up devolving into statements about politics, politicians, and pastors. That's a conversation for another day, as the Nashville Statement actually does not steer into that realm.

Yet, there are esteemed individuals in our nation and in churches who are opposed to the statement. Many op-eds are appearing across news feeds this week revealing this. 

The mayor of Nashville, Megan Barry is opposed to the statement and takes umbrage at the document and the use of the name of her city. She tweeted that the Community Foundation of Middle Tennessee had created a Nashville Unites resolution in response (and opposition) to the Nashville Statement.

Denny Burk, President of the CBMW was asked why Nashville was in the name. His response here...

There is a long Christian tradition of naming doctrinal statements after the places where they were drawn up: The Nicene Creed (325), the Constantinopolitan Creed (381), the Chalcedonian Creed (451), etc. Even more recently, there was the Barmen Declaration (1934), The Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy (1978), The Danvers Statement (1987), and the Manhattan Declaration (2009). There are countless other examples. In each case, the name simply indicates where the statements were drawn up. Whether The Nashville Statement will prove to be as enduring as those others remains to be seen. But that is the reason for the name. We were simply following a precedent set by many before us.

Reverend James Martin, SJ, has written a perspective piece in The Washington Post in opposition to the Nashville Statement

Stories on Fox News, CNN, The Huffington Post, NBC News, and other news agencies have revealed opposition to the Nashville Statement and even declared "Woe to you" to the signers.

Mark Silk, writing for Religion News Service, disagrees with the Statements biblical assertions and declares...

But as a devotee of the Free Exercise Clause I say: Go for it, guys. If that old-time heteronormativity is the hill you want evangelical Christianity to die on, be my guest.

Clearly the culture and the church-at-large is divided on the issue of human sexuality - more now than ever. I share these statements as a point of clarity. While I disagree with those who disagree with the statement, it behooves us to at least read their reasoning. My convictions and affirmation of the Nashville Statement remains.

Why I Signed

I signed the Nashville Statement for the same reasons others have. I do believe the church has the responsibility of clarity regarding biblical teaching in all areas and that includes human identity and gender/sexuality issues. 

Of all the articles, it is number 10 that seems to be getting the most opposition through social media postings.

Article 10

WE AFFIRM that it is sinful to approve of homosexual immorality or transgenderism and that such approval constitutes an essential departure from Christian faithfulness and witness.

WE DENY that the approval of homosexual immorality or transgenderism is a matter of moral indifference about which otherwise faithful Christians should agree to disagree.

At first, the statements seem as reactionary to the shifts in cultural and legal acceptance of same-sex marriage. As days go by and the continued shifts in the moral revolution are revealed, it becomes clear (again that clarity) that same-sex marriage is not the ultimate issue. There's a deeper discussion regarding identity at stake. 

As a Christian, pastor, husband, and father, the reality of all that led to the declarations of the Nashville Statement is more than just some story about people "out there." This is about family. This is about the church family. This is about our community. This is ultimately about the Gospel.

Some who agree with the verbiage of the statement may actually not sign, believing that as Christians they should not take a stand on these issues. I fear the reality that many grew up with in our culture that allowed personal conviction to remain hidden will soon be stripped away. No pastor, no Christian leader, in fact, no Christian will be able to stay silent (one way or the other) regarding personal stance on the issues of marriage, sexuality, gender identity, and humanity as image-bearers. 

These questions are present within each church's congregation. If your church has any number of people (I'd say over five) in the congregation, you have someone either related, friends with, co-worker of, or in the sanctuary struggling with these issues. The church cannot be silent.

Culture may declare that "Love is love" but biblically, we must remember that God is love and that has never changed. He defines and reveals the agape love that redeems through Christ. 


Holy Hand Grenades and the Unfortunate Result of Empty Christian Debates

I addressed this reality a bit during last Sunday's sermon. We all know people who just love to debate.  If you're a Christian who attends church regularly and are part of a small group or Sunday school class, you probably have someone in mind right now. Just about every group has "that guy." You know, it is the one who responds to every statement with a confused look and a question, perhaps complete with a raised eyebrow. It starts with "Really?!? Is that right?" (You may be picturing Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson right now with his eyebrow up, staring you down.)

Questions are not to be feared and rightly dividing the Word of God is needed. Christians should be able to as questions honestly. They should also dig deeply into God's Word in prayer for biblically sound answers. This fact is not to be debated.

Outside the evangelical sub-culture that many western Christians now live, there are vast debates being raged. The battle of world views is in full swing. Just turn on television and spend about five minutes on one of the cable news channels, or better yet, give ESPN a look. Entertainment disguised as reporting often ends with a group of frenemies yelling (or at least speaking loudly) at each other attempting to sway opinions. Then, the show ends, the masquerade ceases, and the hosts go get dinner together.

At least that's how I imagine it happens.

In the Christian sub-culture, debates rage as well. My comments from Sunday...

When world views collide, debate often occurs. This may be in the Sunday school class, at the dinner table, on Facebook, through text message, or in varied other ways. There are good and valuable debates and discussions that we as Christians must be prepared to enter into. These cannot be ignored. To do so is to sin in our calling as light and salt.

Yet, there are debates as well that exist solely to fill time, celebrate pontification, and ignore issues that truly matter.

Just by logging into my computer at work this morning, I see it happening. Social media blows up with another shared story questioning how certain churches can justify doing certain things. The questions are not even wrong, but the format or venue for the questions lead to some unforeseen damage. Questions about the holiness of "so-called Christians" end up in comment sections. Holy hand grenades have the pins pulled and then are launched over the berm into the flatlands of social media. BOOM, the show is on. And the world pulls up a chair just to watch. Truth is declared, but slides into the background as the self-appointed "Debate Team" begins to emphasize items that do more to push people away from Christ than declare his glory. Reminds me of Sunday's message focus on the Pharisees who were so caught up in the washing of hands that they totally missed the cleansing of heart that is needed by all. (Sermon Audio and Notes Here.)

33871757814_a3d302ea54_b
Photo credit: Diari La Veu - http://diarilaveu.com via VisualHunt / CC BY-NC-SA

But, at least you win the debate, right?

Christians must always be prepared to contend for the faith with boldness.

Beloved, although I was very eager to write to you about our common salvation, I found it necessary to write appealing to you to contend for the faith that was once for all delivered to the saints. Jude 3 (ESV)

To be clear, I am not shying away from declaring biblical truth in all venues, physical and virtual, and at all times, whether in person or on social media, but sometimes, I fear, we (well-meaning Christians) begin throwing these grenades in order to position ourselves to declare our own versions of righteousness. When self-righteousness and "holier than thou attitudes" are all that's left when the fog settles, the Gospel is not only ignored, but no where to be found. We, as Christians, must push against the idolatry of self that leads to an "appearance of godliness" but avoiding the glory of God and his power.

Truth spoken (or posted) in love for God and His image-bearers is not akin to truth spoken in arrogance.  (TWEET THIS)

And, if you're bold in your faith at the keyboard, you'd best be bold in person as well. Yet again, boldness is not a synonym for arrogance and self-righteousness. Be careful. I have to continually remind myself of this.

Speak the truth in love. 

Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, from whom the whole body, joined and held together by every joint with which it is equipped, when each part is working properly, makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love. Ephesians 4:15-16 (ESV)

Don't get caught in the trap of majoring on the minors and falsely believe you are victorious just because you "win" a debate on matters that do not have eternal focus. Don't celebrate yelling in the synagogue and miss your opportunity to engage on Mars Hill.

 


The Church, Travel Ball, and Quality Sports Ministry

There is no doubt that our culture is sports-hungry. The money spent and made in the professional and college sports world is astounding. It was only a couple of generations that long ago that professional sports leagues were relegated to the northeast in the US and team travel was by bus. Of course, now our professional leagues are international and the number of teams and players continue to grow.

New leagues develop. Creative logos and team names are popping up, all while the attempt to remove and relegate to history the now understood offensive team names and logos. My prediction is that no teams in the future will be named after a group of human beings for fear of being politically incorrect and insensitive. As PETA and other "animal rights" groups influence the culture, we may see a decline of animal logos and mascots as well. You know what this means? It means that all future team names will be named after concepts and things that make little sense. You know, like Magic, Heat, Dynamo, Fire, and Ice. However, given time, someone will find offense in these names as well.

In the meantime, we will celebrate the creativity of Jumbo Shrimp and Baby Cakes as team names.

But I digress...

The growth of team sports on a professional and collegiate level is clear, but the added impact for those in high school and younger is immense.

Travel Ball

In a recent pastoral leadership gathering, the question of ministering to and with those families whose lives shift each year based on their children's AAU and travel ball schedule is no longer something relegated to just a few families in the community.

Since there are now weekend tournaments and travel games for sports that in the past weren't even considered sports, such as competitive dance, cheerleading, and even jump rope (thanks Kendrick brothers,) more and more families are traveling to exotic locales such as Lake City, Ormond Beach, and Gainesville over the weekends for the competitions. 

The dilemma for the church and families has been clear for years. As a pastor and parent who years ago made the AAU basketball travel circuit, I not only understand, but lived through the challenges. I'm not sure I always responded correctly, but nevertheless, I do not speak as one in the ivory tower proclaiming that every family should put away the athletic gear. 

Forsaking the gathering together as God's church is not up for debate either. God settled that need already.

And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near. - Hebrews 10:24-25 ESV

While the argument that "We will just do a devotion in the hotel on Sunday morning as a family" may suffice for some, it it truly not the same as the gathering as the local body of believers. Sure, we're not giving out "Perfect Attendance" pins any longer, but there is value in prioritizing the gathering as a church family. There will be exceptions, certainly, but it seems that for many, and not just travel ball families, the exceptions become the norm.

This conflict between church and family time as it relates to youth sports has been addressed by others over the years. Here are a few articles. I don't necessarily agree with every point presented, but this is a good indicator of the tension and desire for resolution among churches and Christian families.

The discussions regarding the redemption of travel ball and summer leagues with the church continue. I personally am not opposed to the leagues, but do see the church as needing a strategic plan for engaging those who participate. 

Quality Sports Ministry

Numerous churches and parachurch organizations have sought to engage the sub-culture of athletes with the Gospel with varying degrees of success. A group meeting at a high school for athletes may work well, but it is dependent on the leader, the openness of the school, and the commitment level of local churches and students. 

There are some really good sports ministries around. That being said, there are some pretty bad ones as well.

A former church member who now lives in another state, Coach Brian Ferguson and his wife Mary Beth have formed a good and focused sports ministry - Building Powerful Athletes. It is focused on reaching and engaging young athletes with the Gospel. Coach Ferguson has coached football at various levels from prep to professional and has seen first-hand how Christianity and sports need not be mutually exclusive. 

In one conversation with him as we were planning opportunities for future camps and clinics, he expressed how many of the clinics made available are less than effective. I have heard this from many others as well. 

It seems when churches seek to enter the arena of sports, a weak version of sports training is often paired with a watered-down version of the Gospel leaving attendees with little more than a T-shirt, "coaching" tips from dads and older teenagers in the church, with the "celebrity" athlete arriving just to give a 15 minute pep talk garnished with just enough Jesus to make it a "Christian" event (yeah, the quotes are intentional.)

This is basically Sports Light with a dose of Diet Gospel.

David Prince, pastor, professor, theologian, author, and sports fan, has written an excellent book titled In the Arena: The Promise of Sports for Christian Discipleship. I highly recommend it for parents, pastors, coaches, and all believers who love sports, or just want insight into how God uses such for his glory.

Connecting To Athletes

If the young athlete is immersed in the game, he/she becomes part of a sub-culture. There is a language that develops and customs too. To seek to engage an unreached people group, missionaries pray and train and study to best determine how to enter the world of those being sought. Far too many Christians who love sports have ignored how God utilizes such things for his glory.

Last weekend, our church's sports ministry hosted former University of Tennessee Lady Vol and WNBA player, Sidney Spencer Marlborough for a one-day basketball clinic. The purpose was to engage those young ladies in our community who play basketball at their junior high or high school. We learned that hosting a clinic the week after AAU ends is not the best timing, but we did have a group of twelve attend. These girls came from various schools in our county and Sidney's history and expertise in basketball allowed her to speak the language with authority that these young ladies understood. Her husband Bryan, owner of Complete Strength Gym near Kansas City, shared details on exercise and strength training as well. These two were our resident experts who spoke with clarity and authority.

TEAM PHOTO

Yet, it was during lunch when the girls could ask questions and Sidney and Bryan had the opportunity to share more about their lives where the message of the Gospel became very clear. Sidney clarified that sports does not define us. Both she and Bryan affirmed that Christianity and athletics are not mutually exclusive. 

Following lunch, another three hours of basketball ensued.

It was a full day, but at the end, there was solid, quality basketball instruction. There was clear Gospel presentation. And, there were relationships birthed and young ladies in our community discovered a church that loves God enough to love them, even without knowing them first. May this be a catalyst for more quality sports ministry engagement opportunities.

 

First Family Sports - Sidney Spencer from First Family on Vimeo.

 

First Family Sports - Bryan Marlborough from First Family on Vimeo.