The Truth About Church Competition and "Copy + Paste" Programming

We live in an era of quick fix methodology in life. The church is not immune to this.

As statistics for the American church continue to show decreases in baptisms and consistent attendance, many long-time local churches now find themselves struggling to remain not just relevant to a changing to community, but ultimately alive as a congregation.

The church growth movement of the 1970s and 1980s has left a residue of wrongly placed markers for church health that actually do not reveal health, but just attendance, and when attendance wanes, the church is deemed a failure. The church may be failing, but there are more health indicators than just people in the pews. While some mega-churches and new works have creative footprints online and in their respective communities, there are many other local churches seeking to continue serving the Lord and their community, but find themselves struggling to pay bills, engage those in the community or remain open.

Church Competition

Now, most pastors would never admit they're competitors with other local churches. The sad truth is that over time, churches tend to program, develop, offer ministries, music, and events based not on what may be best long-term, or even with a foundational theological understanding, but more on what seems to be working elsewhere. That’s why so many churches seem to be clones of others (especially of those that market really well).

Have you ever wondered why the new church launch in your city looks suspiciously like the mega-church from North Carolina, Dallas, Southern California, or Australia? 

And while I am as guilty as just about any other pastor in striving to find what “secret sauce” is working now to get people and keep people in church, the fact remains that a short-term fix focused on the latest program, event, staff position, concert, or any other tangible thing will be just that – a short-term fix.

New ministries, new staff members, new leadership, new branding, etc. will not provide that which is most needed. That being said, there are definitely moments where each of the previously listed items, and more, must be addressed. Some things must change. Some ministries need to be shelved. That's a reality and I am for all that. However, what I am saying is that to simply focus on the latest marketed "church fix" would be akin to rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic. Things would look good for a season, but that shifting and rearranging would do nothing to keep the ship afloat or moving forward.

Knowing the state of the evangelical church in our nation today, and just observing the data from the evangelical churches (especially the traditionally Baptist ones in my own city) it is clear that the next trendy fix will do little more than delay the inevitable.

While I'm addressing the realities of established churches, church planters and new works should take heed as well. 

Copy + Paste Programming

Anyone who works with computers of software to any degree understands the "copy + paste" illustration. Software allows for the copying of text or images from one document or program to another. All you have to do is "paste" the copied item to the new work and, voila, it's a new creation. Well, it's a new look, but there's really nothing new there. It's the same thing, just replicated. This is not new. Andy Warhol make much by copying and pasting images for his modern artistic works. Ever see the Campbell's soup can or Marilyn Monroe work from Warhol?

When I was a kid in Alabama, a new hamburger restaurant opened. It was headquartered in Nashville, Tennessee and apparently the founder was a disgruntled worker from another famous fast-food restaurant. The name of the new restaurant was Judy's. Judy's sold hamburgers with square meat patties. They had sides like fries and chili and shakes. Their logo was a blond girl that looked much like a redhead many would recognize today.

Judy's
Cedar Rapids, IA - Judy’s Home Style Hamburgers & Fixin’s restaurant is seen under construction at 1854 42nd St. NE. Shortly after completion of the new Judy’s stores in Cedar Rapids, a lawsuit was brought against the franchise by Wendy’s Old Fashioned Hamburgers restaurant because of close similarities, forcing the closure of the Judy’s restaurants. All Judy’s stores were subsequently absorbed into the Wendy’s chain, including the store in this photo. Gazette photo November 19, 1977.

 

 

The restaurant was not bad. Our family ate there once, but as soon as we went it, it was clear...this was a clone. We were eating in a clone of Wendy's restaurant. The food tasted the same. The building was modeled the same. The only differences were that Judy's was blue where Wendy's was red, the girl was blond instead of a redhead, and they had fruit pies (the good, deep-fried ones like McDonald's used to have) instead of Frostys.

Wendy's took them to court and won a cease and desist case. Judy's closed down. They had to pay Wendy's $10 million. Some of their restaurants became Wendy's and now the copy is just barely found on the internet as a restaurant that "used to be."

I know some Judy-style churches that are little more than clones of other churches.

They have found models that work in certain cities and communities, have sought to copy them exactly and paste them into their systems, expecting healthy results.

It's the easy fix. It's the easy way to launch. Just do what someone else is doing. Makes sense, right?

I've attended some of these churches. Some are wonderfully organized and have moved beyond a simple cloning to develop their own identity and processes. That's been done numerous times and actually can lead to health in the church.

Nevertheless, there are others who have sought to be something they never were supposed to be. Sure, Andy Stanley has a pretty good ministry and maybe you can copy his model, but the fact is - you're not Andy Stanley and you aren't in Alpharetta, you didn't launch with a large group of church attenders decades ago, so just stop. Take advantage of the principles of health and growth perhaps, but stop trying to be Andy.

For some of you, Andy's ministry is far from what you desire, so in your cases, stop trying to be...

  • Matt Chandler
  • John Piper
  • Robby Gallaty
  • Rick Warren
  • J.D. Greear
  • H.B. Charles
  • Eric Mason
  • Or whomever you love to listen to preach

Each of these men, and many others, have great things to offer and their churches do as well. But, you are not them. Even if you live in their cities, you are not in their churches (likely) and God has a calling for you that will differ from theirs.

The copy + paste mentality of church replication may be fueling more of the celebrity church and celebrity pastor growth that we see in our culture today. We should be better than this.

I respect each of the men mentioned above, have read much of what they have respectively written, have talked to some of them personally, listened to most of them preach live and online, and have nothing but respect for them. I have learned from them. I have been blessed by them. But...I am not any of them. And neither are you.

Does this mean that we cannot learn from other local churches? Absolutely not. Pastors continue to meet together, text each other, talk on the telephone, and seek insight into ministries (i.e. programs and events) that prove fruitful.

The warning is to not fall into the trap of believing that simply copying another's contextual ministry model and pasting it in one's church will result in healthy, fruitful, ministry. 

Programs come and go. Styles shift. Methodology changes. Contextual clarity is a must, and is a moving target. Yet, even so, we are reminded that since there's nothing new under the sun, the hope and strength we have as local churches must be founded on the gospel and the greatest commandment.

Jesus answered, “The most important is, ‘Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’ The second is this: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these.” Mark 12:29-31 (ESV) [1]

So, young pastor just starting out, or seasoned pastor struggling to move your church forward - stop looking around for some "secret sauce" of ministry that will fix everything in your congregation and context. Start with your own heart and personal walk. Talk with friends in ministry and seek wise counsel. Will you be led to change things in your church setting? Perhaps, but remember, most disciple-making takes time. In fact, I believe all disciple-making takes time. Leading a healthy church is about leading a disciple-making fellowship - and it will take time. 

Press on. Be encouraged.

Don't pastor a "Judy's Hamburger Church" that is simply a copy of someone else's work. I'm not sure there's such a thing as spiritual plagiarism, but this comes close. 

 

 

[1] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2016). (Mk 12:29-31). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles.


Black History and White Pastors

In 1926, the second week in February was declared "Negro History Week" by historian Carter G. Woodson and the Association for the Study of Negro Life and History. Why February? Why the second week? The week was chosen based on the birth dates of two gentlemen revered by many black Americans - Abraham Lincoln (February 12) and Frederick Douglass (February 14). 

The intent was to emphasize and encourage the study of valuable history of American blacks in the public schools. 

Not surprisingly, the first weekly celebration was met with lukewarm response by many. In some cases, lukewarm would be considered an overstatement. Nevertheless, the event was created and became an annual emphasis, gaining strength over the years. It was not long before the Negro History Week was being promoted by churches and groups throughout the nation. 

The week morphed and grew into Black History Month in 1969, first at Kent State University. As you know, the late 1960s were trying times. The Civil Rights Movement had grown from gatherings in 1954 to swell in the late 1960s, leading to long-overdue legislation. Yet, just passing laws did not solve the racial divide issues in our nation. In fact, now almost fifty years later, as far as we have come, there are still great racial divides, distrust, and disunity. Oh, don't get me wrong, I believe we have come far, but then again...I'm a white, middle-class male and my perspective relates that.

I know deeply that though we have come far, we have far to go. 

So, it is February once more. It's Black History Month (or African-American History Month as it is now often labeled.) I read the quote from Carter Woodson today regarding why he felt the need to begin such a focus. 

"If a race has no history, it has no worthwhile tradition, it becomes a negligible factor in the thought of the world, and it stands in danger of being exterminated. The American Indian left no continuous record. He did not appreciate the value of tradition; and where is he today? The Hebrew keenly appreciated the value of tradition, as is attested by the Bible itself. In spite of worldwide persecution, therefore, he is a great factor in our civilization."

As I pray through the significance of such a focus this month, I cannot help but admit that I do not know much, much less enough, about the significant history of black Americans, not to mention black Christian theologians. 

Some push back and say things like "What about a white history month?" I know they mean well (or maybe not) but the truth is every month seems to be primarily a white history month. There are no labels for such, but I don't have to struggle to remember hearing and reading historical accounts of George Washington, Abraham Lincoln, Susan B. Anthony, Dolly Madison, Napoleon, Queen Victoria, Dwight Eisenhower, etc. World (mostly European) and American history is predominantly white.

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Photo credit: Internet Archive Book Images on Visual Hunt / No known copyright restrictions

While there should be emphases on "brown" and "yellow" (pardon the colloquialisms) for great historical achievements from those from Latin American, Hispanic, and Asian heritages, this month's focus is on the historical significance of those with the darkest shade of melanin.

I have heard it stated, or at least alluded to, that to celebrate or focus on such a racially centered month of history means that one is liberal. I reject that. Liberalism and conservatism (based on current American political definitions) should not come into play when recognizing the achievements of those in our nation and culture who should be remembered. 

I'm Not Racist, But...

Have you ever heard anyone begin a conversation with that phrase? Do you know what that means? It means the next words out of that person's mouth will likely reveal the racial or racially insensitive undertones deep within their heart or mind. Many don't even know they have these.

  • "I'm not racist, but I'm not sure my kid will do well at that school. There are just too many people there who are ... different from him." Yep, I've heard this one and I know the school being referenced. What does this statement mean? Well, in some cases it could be a statement about educational strength, teacher qualifications, academic health, etc. But, in this case, it meant one thing. "I'm not sure my white kid will do well in a school with so many black kids." Uh...yeah. 
  • "I'm not racist, but I don't see why we have to study black history every February."
  • "I'm not racist, but I don't like the NBA anymore since Larry Bird retired. It's so urban now."
  • "I'm not racist, but I think different races worship differently so it's okay to have churches for each group." 

There are more. I've heard them all. I am sure I have said some of them in the past. For that I repent. Why? Because...it's racist and that is sin!

Racial Unity Must Be Gospel Unity

Recently I was asked to co-chair with my friend, Pastor Elijah Simmons of Mt. Horeb Baptist Church in Jacksonville, Florida, a committee, or team of pastors and leaders in our local Baptist association focused on addressing clearly the issues of racial unity and gospel clarity among our churches. As we prepare to meet this month, I am convicted that personally, I have far to go. 

I have far to go because I am unaware of so much that our black and African-American Christian brothers and sisters have offered and have to offer to the world of Christendom. I have far to go because as I look at the books on my shelves, most are, or were, written by white men. I have hundreds of books. I have a handful written by black authors. I have far to go. No wonder many young black men and women believe that Christianity is a white man's religion. 

If you ask the average white Christian church attender to name an African-American pastor in the United States, you will likely get a few names of those who preach prosperity false gospel messages and live lavish lifestyles (BTW - there are more white guys and ladies doing the same) and be unable to name those who preach the gospel with clarity, sincerity, and right division of the Word. 

Yet, there are many whom all would be helped to hear. Just some...

  • Eric Mason
  • H.B. Charles, Jr.
  • Cam Triggs
  • Tony Evans
  • Thabiti Anyabwile
  • Robert Smith
  • Elijah Simmons
  • Fred Luter
  • Eric Cummings
  • Many more (anytime I try to make a list, I leave many off, so this is just a short-list of those I have listened to.)

The skin tone of these men is not what makes their preaching valuable. Their commitment to the Lord and solid preaching of the gospel makes their preaching powerful and valuable.

I know to begin to talk about race relations and black-white issues in our nation, one will be vilified. I know the conversations we will have as pastors come on the heels of hundreds of conversations and prayers of those men and women before us (of all shades of skin tone.) 

It may even be risky.

But, then again, hasn't it always been risky? 

Hasn't it always been risky for Christians to declare truth, stand for what is right and holy, and declare truth as prophets of old did, when the populace refused to listen?

Then again, who ever said Christianity was for those who want it easy?

Unity in the Gospel

I was recently asked why I would agree to serve on the gospel unity commission mentioned earlier. This is why:

Since the inception of the SBC (which, by the way was fueled by the unfortunate and sinful practice of slavery) there have been at least 31 SBC resolutions regarding race. Each has been framed by world events, cultural practices, and even at times, acceptable sins. At different moments, through God’s direction, SBC leaders have revisited our history and offered greatly needed and rightly worded resolutions centered on repentance of previously held beliefs and practices among member churches and denominational institutions regarding race.

While it is clear we as a denomination have come far from our first gathering in 1845, the facts remain that continued steps of progress regarding race relations among Baptists and all believers must be taken. The need for our member churches to unite publicly for the sake of the gospel requires us to stand firmly as brothers and sisters in Christ, allowing for no form of privilege, acceptance, or even friendship based on race to flourish. Some say that as a nation we are more divided now than ever. I’m sure our black and brown brothers and sisters who grew up during the 1960s in the South, not to mention the ancestors who were owned by other human beings may declare it was worse then than now. Nevertheless, we do know that the division that exists today is very real, and sometimes to our dismay, that divide is not just outside the church walls.

Therefore, our group is coming together, as we have been for years (because we are brothers, pastors, and friends) to focus on this issue clearly. The stand for gospel unity as it relates to racial diversity is a narrow place. Yet, the narrower the place we stand, the broader the influence we will have for the sake of the gospel.

We have come far. We have far to go. Fortunately, we are not creating our path. God already has.

Happy Black History Month. 


When "It Could Happen Here" Actually Happens Here

It has been said that the world is shrinking. With the propagation of 24-hour news channels and the growth of social media, events taking place on the other side of the world (like the Olympics) are viewed in real-time. What used to take hours to be disseminated now is known in seconds.

It's true for global news and sporting events, but those stories pale in comparison to what was made known yesterday.

Yesterday, at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida (Broward County), Nikolas Cruz (19) barged into his former high school with a semiautomatic AR-15 rifle and carried out one of the deadliest shootings in modern American history. Seventeen were murdered. A school and community has been rocked. Families are devastated.

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The mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla., was one of the deadliest in American history. Credit Saul Martinez for The New York Times

A Columbine-type event happened again. This time much closer to where we live. The images from the news show students, teachers, parents, police officers, community residents who look just like our neighbors...because they are our neighbors (though a few hundred miles south.)

Others are ramping up their lobbying efforts and political pushes based on these events. 

I, however, am praying for these families of those slain, for the students impacted, for the coaches, teachers, school employees, and administrators who cannot just get back to "business as usual." I'm praying for my brothers who serve as pastors in the community as they serve those in their churches who were impacted, some tragically. I'm praying for those believers and churches who want to do something, and will do much for the sake of the gospel at this time.

I'm praying for justice for the one who committed the crime. And, just in case it's not clear, a prayer for justice can coincide with prayer he finds hope in Christ. Those are not mutually exclusive prayers.

Some state that the #PrayFor_____ movements that come when tragedies occur are empty. In truth, they may be for most, but for believers who follow Christ, true prayer is not a passive thought designed to make self feel good, but active and powerful and real. May we be men and women of prayer, holding up the arms of our brothers and sisters in south Florida who are currently in the center of the tragedy.

It could happen here.

Now, it has happened here.


Church Unity Is Not Always a Good Thing

I came to serve on pastoral staff at First Baptist Church of Orange Park in 1994. Our senior pastor, Allen Harrod saw something in me that led the church to say "yes" when the time came to call a new student pastor. I am thankful for him and his willingness to take a chance on a just graduated (actually not even graduated at the time of the hiring) seminary student who had never even been a member of a church with more than 120 regular attenders. 

In the early 2000s Dr. Harrod retired and moved back home to Kentucky.

It was during this time I submitted my name to the pastor search committee for consideration as senior pastor. This was a huge step of faith, not only for me, but especially for the committee and the church.

In 2005, the church called me to be the senior pastor, a position I have held since August of that year.

As I think back to the process of hiring, I met with the deacon body, the personnel committee, the pastor search committee, and numerous other groups. These meetings took place over a number of months. We had been without a pastor for over a year and a sense was growing among the church members that a senior pastor needed to be called soon. The committees were praying through whether or not to call me and present me to the church body for a vote. It was a time of uncertainty, but I was confident that whether the church called me or said no, God had a plan. In fact, I'm still confident of that and rest in that daily. Nevertheless, the church called me, and as much as I felt unqualified to serve as student pastor at this church in 1994, that feeling was exponentially larger for this new role.

The common, stated desire of church leaders and members was that the church be unified. 

Unity is good, but unity must never be the goal.

Church unity is not always a good thing.

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Photo credit: <a href="https://visualhunt.com/author/a99b2d">tHeDiGiTaLdRoPoUt</a> on <a href="https://visualhunt.com/re/2dad6e">VisualHunt</a> / <a href="http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-sa/2.0/"> CC BY-NC-SA</a>

Sometimes, unity can be sinful

When churches are sinfully unified the unity becomes a tool of the enemy keeping believers from repentance and holy living.

For example, in 1845 my denomination, the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) was formed. Despite all the good that has been done through SBC evangelistic and mission endeavors over the years, the fact remains that our denomination was founded, at least partially, on the agreed, and unified belief among leaders that slavery was okay. 

Our own denomination was birthed out of a commitment to preserve and defend slavery. We cannot evade the historical facts. Along with Presbyterians and Methodists, Baptists broke their national fellowship over the morality of slave ownership. The nomination of James Reeve, a Georgia Baptist and slaveholder, to serve as a missionary through the American Baptist Home Mission Society (ABHMS) was a clear test intended to force the society's hand one way or another, to take sides with either abolitionists or with slavery's defenders. The ABHMS chose not to receive the application, thereby trying to avoid making any pronouncement on the issue. When Alabama Baptists subsequently wrote to the Triennial Convention, headquartered in Boston, regarding the board's disposition toward appointing slaveholders to foreign mission work, things took a more concrete form. The board members replied: "If ... any one should offer himself as a missionary, having slaves, and should insist on retaining them as his property, we could not appoint them. One thing is certain, we can never be a party to any arrangement which would imply approbation of slavery." In response, by May 1845 white delegates from the deep South gathered in Augusta, Georgia, and formed a new mission society, the Southern Baptist Convention. The majority of the 293 delegates came from Georgia and South Carolina. After organizing the new fellowship, forged in defense of slavery, the distinguished guests ironically joined together to sing "Blest Be the Tie That Binds." 1

These Christian leaders were unified. They were unified in their sinful and wrongly held beliefs that slavery was okay, or at a minimum not a gospel issue. We could debate the cultural understandings and political ramifications. Some even reference others in Christendom who held slaves. Even some biblical characters were slaveholders. I have had those discussions with others, but I would caution anyone, especially Christians, from attempting to justify the ownership of another human being as anything but ultimately sinful.

Fortunately, God has redeemed our churches from this chapter in history. At least, we hope and believe the process of redemption has begun.

To bring it a bit more to current day, even though slavery was outlawed following the Civil War, the race divide did not disappear in America, even among those claiming the name of Christ. 

Throughout the twentieth century, and sadly even today, there are "white" churches where blacks are not welcome. I'm sure there are "black" or "brown" churches who do not welcome whites either, but that does not excuse the prominent white churches in America. Since I'm a white guy (just in case that wasn't clear from my picture to the left on this blog) I'll speak about the white churches.

There have been/are "white" churches who are unified in their beliefs regarding the acceptance of blacks in their membership. Their unified beliefs that churches should remain segregated by race are wrong. Those beliefs are sinful and do not honor God. 

Yet, they're unified.

In some cases, Christians accept people of other races into church membership, but if one were desirous to marry their child, the issues of what is right and holy come up. I even had a former church member come to me for counsel, seeking biblical references affirming the sinfulness of interracial (black and white in this case) marriage. That church member did not receive the counsel desired. There is no biblical support for such. 

Yet, some churches are unified in their abhorrence to inter-racial marriage.

They are wrong.

See what I mean.

Since some of you wish I would get off the race issue, let's address another area where churchgoers are unified and wrong. As the cultural revolution continues to change what is considered normative and acceptable in our society, churches and denominations are having to answer questions previous generations never considered. 

Gender issues and identity questions are at the forefront and unified statements regarding acceptable weddings and other issues now make the news. While some wish to equate the gender and sexual identity issues to those of race, I would see those as not comparative. 

Some churches have abandoned what I deem as biblical teaching to acquiesce to the new cultural norms. 

From my perspective, there are churches standing together in unity, but abandoning the full teaching of the gospel (not unlike our SBC fore-bearers).

So, unity is not always good. 

When Unity is Godly

When the church is unified, there is power, but the key question is "On what are we unified?"

This is not about opinions regarding church methodology. This is about unity in Christ.

Unity within the body of Christ must be centered on the truth and person of Christ. Unity must affirm and focus on the Trinity. The foundation of the unified church must be the gospel.

To be unified on other issues, allowing those to become primary, may lead us down a road far from the gospel and the mission of the church. For that we must be cautioned. Yet, unity in the gospel is to be sought. Jesus' prayer speaks of this.

“I have manifested your name to the people whom you gave me out of the world. Yours they were, and you gave them to me, and they have kept your word. Now they know that everything that you have given me is from you. For I have given them the words that you gave me, and they have received them and have come to know in truth that I came from you; and they have believed that you sent me. I am praying for them. I am not praying for the world but for those whom you have given me, for they are yours. 10 All mine are yours, and yours are mine, and I am glorified in them. 11 And I am no longer in the world, but they are in the world, and I am coming to you. Holy Father, keep them in your name, which you have given me, that they may be one, even as we are one. John 17:6-211 (ESV)

May we be unified in Christ.

____________________

1Jarvis J. Williams and Kevin M. Jones, Removing the stain of racism from the Southern Baptist Convention: diverse African American and white perspectives (Nasvhille, TN: B&H Academic, 2017), p. 10.


Should I Visit or Join This Church?

A few weeks ago a gentleman came to our Sunday service and afterward shared his desire to know Jesus, follow in believer's baptism and become a member of our fellowship. These moments are always exciting and remind us that God is working at all times. 

We talked about baptism and the membership class and covenant to come, but that's not what this posting is about.

Yesterday, I talked with him again. He shared that he has a brother-in-law who has done mission work in East Asia and now is attending seminary. He (the new church member) shared how God had radically changed his family members' lives. He has seen it first-hand. 

When God began to work on our new friend and the Holy Spirit's draw became stronger, our friend knew he needed to be in a local church. He did a search online and found our church website. He noticed our Orange Park campus is near where he lives. Online, it looked good. The commute was workable. Everything seemed okay, but he needed to ask his brother-in-law.

This is not uncommon. I get emails and phone calls from friends and former church members who now live in different communities throughout the US, and even outside the US. The question I'm asked is the one this new member asked - "Is this a good church?" referring to the one that is in their neighborhood.

Despite what some believe, all pastors do not know all other pastors. Yet, there are connections. Even when a personal friendship is absent, sometimes a cursory overview of a website and pastoral biographies can help answer this question.

So, our church and I were presented to the brother-in-law (whom I do not know.) After some searching and reading online, the brother-in-law gave us the okay. 

Our new church members stated "I just needed to know you guys were the kind of church that I should be part of." 

And that's a great question and a great reason!

There are many churches in our community. There are really good, solidly biblical, gospel-centric churches. Any of those would be good for this brother to join.

Yet, there are some that...well, let's just say have a different take on doctrine and church polity that may not be the best fit.

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When the brother-in-law checked out our site, he did what I do. He checked that which was presented (knowing that sometimes churches look much different online than in person.) Here are some of the things I would research when asked this question about which church to join:

  • Is the doctrine of the church clearly available online?
  • In the doctrinal statement, what is revealed regarding belief about God, the Trinity, nature of man, salvation, baptism mode, gifts, family, etc. In our case, we have an abbreviated list as delineated in the Baptist Faith & Message (2000) which is the doctrinal confession we affirm. We link the full document as well. Read here.
  • Who is the Lead Pastor?
  • What is known about the pastor and his family? Did he go to seminary? Where did he go? What are some interests he may have? While these are not make or break details, education and seminary training often reveals the doctrinal leaning of church leadership. In my case, I'm a graduate of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary. I am attending the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary now. We have pastors on staff who have graduated from New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary, Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary and Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary. We have almost all SBC seminaries represented (just need someone from Gateway.) 
  • Is the church complementarian or egalitarian when it comes to pastoral leadership?
  • What does the church believe and teach regarding biblical inerrancy?
  • What are the affiliations of the church? This could be denominational, associational, network, etc.
  • What are some of the ministries offered by and through the church? This will reveal much about priorities.
  • Does the church site show a centeredness on the gospel or some other focus, like politics, patriotic Christianity, social gospel only, etc.?
  • Is there a focus on prosperity or poverty gospels?
  • Will my family and I be welcomed? This question was asked by a brother who was being very clear and focused. He is an African-American and said "My wife is white. Will the church welcome us?" With race relations in our nation prominent, the church must be clear that racism in any form is not only unacceptable, but abhorrent to the gospel.
  • Are sermons available online? It helps to listen or watch a sermon by the pastor to get a feel regarding doctrinal soundness.

This is not a complete list, and discernment is needed in all cases. Some things are deal breakers for church recommendations. Others are not. Things that are not are items such as worship style, preferred Bible translation, dress code, etc.? Those elements are preferential at best, though Bible translations used should be considered, the fact there are numerous good English translations available should be understood. 

Nevertheless, I was encouraged when our newest church member joined, as led by God, with affirmation from a pastor he trusted. 

It's never wrong to ask "Is this the church I should join?" Membership matters and the wise would make this inquiry.


Thank You for Your Prayers, but You Can Keep Your Prayer Requests

Any long-time church attender in our nation, who has been part of a Sunday School class (or small group, or life group, or home group, or fellowship group, etc.) has likely, at one point, experienced "prayer request time." Now, I know I'm treading on thin ice here. If not read fully, some will say that I'm bashing prayer request time. I am not. I am, however, bashing gossip time disguised as prayer request time.

I touched on this recently in an interview with Janice Backer of Missions Mosaic magazine that focused on some prodigal issues within our family. Some of what is referenced below was covered in the article (link at bottom.)

Regarding Prayer

As our family was working through the shock and pain of revealed sin in our child's life, we found ourselves shaken deeply. Questions regarding personal and parental failures developed. Prayers and deep times with the Lord regarding continued service in the church and continued service in ministry as a pastor were common.

Someone asked if it felt like we had a child die. While I understand the question, and perhaps some similar emotions arose, to equate what we were experiencing with that of parents who had buried their progeny would be insensitive at best. My parents had a baby boy (my brother Michael) who died. My grandparents had a daughter who died at a young age. Many in our church family have suffered the grief of funeral planning for their children, so no, our grief was not the same.

Nevertheless, it was definitely grief we were experiencing.

For the most part our church family responded to our struggles as God's children should. My wife and I experienced the love and comfort from those who were hurting with us. The empathy and sympathy from those who had experienced similar stories was as a healing salve to a wound. Our child was never ostracized from the church. Our child was continually accepted (though the sin was not) and loved as part of the church family. Concerning our child's personal salvation, what seemed certain years ago now leaves us not we are now not certain, but the church never equivocated on the gospel nor on the call to love.

Nevertheless, some did believe it their calling to confront. They did so in love, at least the ones I am aware of. Yet, what is often meant in love may not be received as such. Since most of our confrontations are not loving, it is very difficult to actually do this biblically and in some cases, the "righteous love" that was intended was not perceived. I'm not blaming here, just point out the fact that any confrontation in Christian love, best be prayed about prior with heavy emphasis on "Christian love." That being said, Christian love may feel harsh to the confronted. In fact, it almost always does. Christian love is focused on redemption and righteousness. When those two elements are not present, it's not Christian love. 

The Prayer Requests

Well intentioned Christians can fall quickly into a mode of gossip under the banner of "prayer requests." This did happen in some cases. This was not helpful. In fact, it was wrong and remains wrong. 

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Photo by Listshack on Visualhunt / CC BY

I want to roll my eyes when the serial prayer requester starts talking about some unnamed neighbor's cousin's brother-in-law's circumstance in need of prayer...five states away. I wonder "Is this really a prayer request, or someone's need to be sure they have something on the list?" 

The Unspoken Prayer Request

The unspoken prayer request is good, but can be overused as well. Almost every group has the person who wants to express aloud...every meeting...that he has an unspoken. I often wondered as a kid "Wonder what that is? I bet it's really bad!" and sometimes it is. I am all for the wisdom of offering these types of requests and seeking intercession from the community of faith. Sometimes, the issue is just too embarrassing or not yet something for public discourse. Sometimes, unfortunately, it is an unspoken request because the person needing prayer just does not trust the others in the class to truly pray without spreading gossip.

The Un-prayed List

I often wonder how many in the group that gathers actually prays over the requests shared. I'm not seeking to throw anyone under the bus, but I've been guilty of being in a group, hearing requests and then just praying the "Lord, answer all these needs" prayer. Sometimes, I let someone else pray and I just agree by closing my eyes. I'm convicted of this.

At some point, the name on the list, if you do the list, needs to be covered. Find ways to ensure that these needs that have been deemed authentic are actually prayed for by believers. It could be by assigning a portion of the group to pray silently for a just a few requests, or even one. I don't have that answer, but I know that a name on a list with a generic "bless everyone" is not what is needed.

Prayer Availeth Much (James 5:16)

In our circumstance, we continually seek prayers from our church family...in all seasons. I know that many have been and continue to pray.

Thank you!!!!

We have found healing and strength beyond measure through God during these storms of life. The journey is long. One person's (or family member's) sin is no greater than another. Sin is never excused, but it can be forgiven. We are continually reminded that love and affirmation are not synonyms and this has been bedrock for us. 

We have been affirmed that our resting in Christ provides what we need when worry and stress seem overwhelming. (Sometimes, we need reminding about every 30 minutes.) 

Keep reading the Word. Keep trusting in God. Keep resting in Christ. Keep holding true to the Truth, without compromise. 

Keep praying...but consider your prayer requests, keep them holy.

__________

Story referred to from from the December, 2017, issue of Missions Mosaic. Used by permission. To receive this issue or to read more articles about how to exhibit grace in difficult life situations go tohttps://www.wmustore.com/missions-mosaic.


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. 

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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.