Baptists, Sexual Abuse, and the Long-Awaited Next Steps

Sometimes stories trend and then disappear. They become the lead story in the news or online for a season and then there's another story that pushes it to the side. Often it is just one tragic reality after another as readers and viewers take in the depravity of our world. Whether a shooting, a trial, an exposé of abuse, or the latest celebrity controversy (like Britney's conservatorship,) trending stories come and go. Yet, for those who are the subjects of such stories the focus and impact often never ceases. 

For example when the current trials in Wisconsin and Georgia are complete, families of all involved will continue to relive the issues being discussed, as well as the aftermaths while the majority of Americans shift to the next trending story.

That is just how it is. It is how it has been for as long as there have been news outlets and latest headlines and updates.

Trending Sexual Abuse Stories - Not Just for the Catholics

In the 1980s the Catholic Church sexual abuse scandals involving priests and coverups became known globally. Since that time, more and more stories have been shared. Victims may have received settlements and some clergy may have been removed, but scars and pain remain. 

In Baptist life, when the Fort Worth Star-Telegram ran an exposé of independent fundamental Baptist (IFB) churches regarding hundreds of cases of sexual abuse by pastors and leaders, many in local evangelical churches began to take note. It wasn't just a Catholic issue (like we ever truly thought it was.) Yet, even then it seemed that many were saying "That's terrible! At least it didn't happen in our church, or in our denomination." 

But we knew better. 

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The victimization of the vulnerable has been a tactic of the enemy since Eden. With humanity's depravity on full display due to the inherent sin nature of all, the sinful desires of evil men and women at times infiltrate the most sacred and holy places. 

In February 2019 the truth was laid bare for all to see when the Houston Chronicle's exposé regarding sexual abuse within Southern Baptist (SBC) churches was published. Suddenly, many shifted into damage control, but sadly, this was more than a story to be addressed or a trending issue to be survived. The instances revealed were not hearsay, but documented cases of pastors, ministry directors, and volunteer leaders who abused boys, girls, and teenagers sexually, leaving many to doubt the righteousness and love of God, not to mention the validity of sacred trust and leadership within the local bodies of faith.

I have written in the past of the disgusting and systematic abuse perpetrated by a pastoral staff member at the church I now have the honor of pastoring (though this took place many years prior to my arrival) and the tragic impact it has had on our church, community, and especially the men and women who were teenagers at the time of their victimization. My article about this is available here.

Sexual Abuse Pushed to the Forefront

What has happened within the past few months within the world of Southern Baptists has been the very public conversations, debates, votes, arguments, and varied issues brought to the floor of the annual meeting of Southern Baptists and the subsequent meetings of the SBC Executive Committee. Whether one agrees with the steps now taken regarding the waiving of attorney-client privilege (by the mandate of SBC messengers) of the Executive Committee is not my focus here (as I have also written of that here.) What is the focus is what is now occurring in many of our state conventions.

I do not know anyone personally who has excused proven sexual abuse issues within the convention's entities or cooperating churches. No one I know personally is seeking to minimize the impacts of sexual abuse within the faith community. But...as they say, perception is reality often and the perceived ignoring of sexual abuse, especially partnered with the perception of cheap forgiveness with no actual consequence has caused great harm. 

Perhaps there some within the SBC who truly hate that sexual abuse has occurred within our network of autonomous churches, have grieved over the hurt done, said the proper words regarding these issues, but would rather this just be an issue for a season, delineated in a toothless resolution, filed away as a dark chapter in our history, then ignored (maybe ignored is too harsh a word, so possibly just pushed to the back burner) so that the next denomination-wide emphasis or church theme can be promoted well and...we can move on. Yet, just as when a trending story is no longer on the front page, the pain felt by those impacted remains.

State Conventions Take Steps

November is state convention season in our network. For two to three days, Baptist messengers from churches affiliated with local state conventions gather for meetings. This is not unlike the national meeting when it comes to the business sessions and polity on display. Perhaps the major differences (as evidenced by updates on social media from participating pastors and messengers throughout our network) are that most often the state conventions now have less negative drama, more intentional focus on unity and mission, and a true sense of family as pastors who may be on different sides of the aisle when it comes to denominational politics and processes seem to actually like each other. 

I serve in Florida and our Florida Baptist State Convention was held in Lakeland on November 8-9. In what may have been a historic moment, the State Board of Missions (full disclosure - I served on this board for seven years, completing my term on November 9) brought only four recommendations to the state convention for a vote. Each recommendation was simply stated and affirmed with no issues. The only recommendation that elicited any comments from the floor was Recommendation 4. This recommendation was for the newly elected president of the Florida Baptist State Convention (Paul Purvis) to establish a special committee of the state convention to examine all policies and procedures governing sexual abuse allegation reporting, sexual abuse survivor care, and sexual abuse prevention within state convention entities and partner ministries. 

The full recommendation is included here in an article from Florida Baptist Convention by Barbara Denman -> CLICK HERE.

The comments from the floor were to ensure that while having a female sexual abuse survivor on the to-be-established committee, we must not ignore the reality that there are many men who are survivors of clergy (or church leader related) sexual abuse. This is the reality of those victimized decades prior in my church. The comments were received as friendly.

As I have read from related stories online, other state Baptist conventions have or are making similar steps.

Questions Remain

Though the vote in our state was clearly in approval of this recommendation, not all messengers were, or are certain this is needed. These conversations will continue to occur. Some fear that churches may be stepping too far into what has been termed "cancel culture" by presuming guilt rather than innocence. I do not see that as the intent of the recommendation at all. There are varied lists of "but what about..." that I have heard and continue to hear. Sorry, I don't have answers for all those potentials and while I do agree that in some cases this may be a Pandora's Box of issues, I believe that perpetually ignoring or pushing to the side the issues of such heinous sin is worse. 

I also do not believe the passing of our recommendation will fix all the issues that continue to be revealed in our churches and entities, but I do believe it is a good next step and clearly states that our intent is action, not just words. Of course that ultimately remains to be seen, but I seek to be an optimist.

Healing Fueled by Prayer

The Florida committee will include eight people. I am praying for our state convention president, my brother and friend Paul Purvis, Pastor of Mission Hill Church in Temple Terrace, as he compiles this team. I am praying for the committee as they seek to glorify God, listen well, seek truth, and do all they are enabled to do to ensure that if any steps need to be taken in our state entities, if any policies need to be updated, if any guidelines must be restated, and more, that their recommendations will be heeded.

I am praying for Tommy Green, the Executive Director-Treasurer of our Florida Baptist Convention as he continues to lead our state convention well. I thank him for spearheading this recommendation and leading our State Board to address it.

I am praying for the men, women, boys, and girls who live with emotional scars and deeply felt wounds that have impacted them in ways I cannot fathom. I am praying that they will know they are deeply loved with a pure, selfless, permanent, unconditional love and will experience the healing they so desperately need. 

Our focus must be less about fixing organizations, and more about ministering to those most vulnerable and carrying the hurt of a formerly trending story. Ultimately, this glorifies God.

I believe this was the correct next step for our state convention. It will not be the final step.


Halloween on a Sunday Leads Our Church to Make a Shift in Event-Centered Ministry

Do you know what almost NO ONE in your community is asking regarding the upcoming October 31 events? They are NOT asking whether they should participate in their neighborhood Trick or Treating. They are NOT debating whether or not they should purchase overpriced candy to give out at the doors to children dressed as superheroes, princesses, and Bluey. They are NOT asking which local church they never attend may be having an event they can attend (though many may be considering such if convenient.) Oh, and since October 31 is on Sunday this year, most of your neighbors are NOT feeling conflicted about Halloween being on the Lord's Day.

For years our church has hosted a "Trunk or Treat" event for the community that has drawn great crowds, tired many church members, and left us thinking "Well...that was very tiring, but good." Yet, this year we are doing things a bit differently.

After deciding to not host our "Trunk or Treat" event, our leadership team began asking what, if anything could or should be done on this second-most popular holiday in America. Of course there are all the "Should Christians Celebrate Halloween" articles and discussions that come up this time of year. To be honest, over the years, I have likely held every differing opinion on this. And since I do not desire to write an article on the subject of Halloween and Christians, I'll just link to Travis Allen's well crafted one here on the Grace To You site (click here) and move on.

As our team contemplated our calendared events, knowing there are some in our church who will be upset that we are no longer doing exactly what we have done in previous years (There will always be that group. I think we still have some members that are a bit frustrated we no longer have "Hanging of the Green" at Christmas. We stopped doing that in 1992, two years before I joined the staff here. I am grateful.) There are some who will likely like the fact we are not hosting a "Trunk or Treat." And...there are many who simply do not care either way.

That's how it is for most church-based events.

One of our values as a church is that we "love where we live." It's practical, aspirational to a degree, and needed. Yet, to love where we live means that often we must do the work of the minister not just at the church building (or in the church parking lot on Halloween) but in our own homes, neighborhoods, and communities. Therefore, we are attempting a shift this year. Perhaps this will be the year that we can begin to pry apart the philosophy that Christian activities must take place at the church buildings only. There's something about equipping the saints and commissioning believers to be on mission in their own communities, neighborhoods, apartment complexes, and cul-de-sacs.

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Seeking to discover how best to do this for Halloween, without compromising any theological beliefs or matters of conscience I found a sister church in our network that has produced a logical, point-by-point, step-by-step, how-to strategy for Halloween outreach for their members. Since stealing is a sin, our church will be gleaning (that's a good biblical, not sinful word) from Fruit Cove Baptist Church and present similar ideas and plans to our church family. Thank you to Fruit Cove and Pastor Tim Maynard and staff for this great idea. A portion of their plan is below.

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Just a portion of Fruit Cove Baptist Church's Halloween Outreach Plan. More at fruitcove.com/neighbor

I do not know how many of our church family will actually take this advice and do this, but I am optimistic.

Imagine hundreds of believers refusing to isolate themselves from the very people they have been commissioned to reach with the gospel. Imagine hundreds of Christians actually having fun and smiling as dozens of children (potentially) come to their doors asking for free candy (and by the way - give out good candy and don't give out tracts.) Imagine relationships beginning that could eventually lead to a gospel conversation. Imagine the church focusing on going where the crowd is rather than always trying to create a crowd.

Of course, if you just cannot move yourself to do anything on Halloween.  That's understandable. No guilt throwing here.

But even if that is your conviction, I encourage you to pray that somehow, in some way, God would use his grace-filled, redeemed children to live as missionaries and love where they live so much that others may hear and experience the gospel and that angels will rejoice.

As for me and my house...we will be eating all the Reese's before any kids start ringing our doorbell.

 

Here's a link to our webpage with ideas for our church members - click here.


With All That Is Happening In the Southern Baptist Convention, What Are We To Do?

"Oh no! What are we going to do? What's next?"

These are the words of desperate, fearful, overwhelmed, and despondent people. And sadly, over the years I have found myself saying these very things. 

Whether the questions revolve around national politics, global health issues, local community problems, natural disasters, denominational or religious issues, or even the very personal issues such as marital breakdown, prodigal children, grief over death, or even terminal diagnoses, we tend to all find ourselves at one point or another asking these very same or similar questions to anyone who would listen.

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There is a black hole of despondency that has a gravitational pull so very strong that it feels impossible to ignore. The circumstances of life, the interruptions of our personal peace and daily schedules, the frustrations brought upon us by actions or inactions of others...or sometimes just the random "bad news" that arrives in our stories can suck us into a place of fear and hopelessness.

I awakened this morning and after reading the Bible (working on that "read the Bible in a year" plan still) and praying, I checked the latest goings-on via Twitter. I understand that Twitter may not be the most accurate news source, but it is immediate and trending stories catch my eye. Through all the vital updates via the trending hashtag, such as Robert Pattinson's strange "Batman voice" in the teaser of the upcoming film, the latest on the MLB playoffs, and Prince William's declarations that billionaires should not focus on building rockets, I noticed the latest updates in the sub-culture of Southern Baptist (SBC) life.

There is much more to every recent SBC story than I could delineate clearly here, so I will leave that to the more accomplished wordsmiths who understand more fully the latest controversies, polity issues, and scandals that gain likes, responses, or fuel Twitter-wars.

Nevertheless, I do care very much about what is happening. I have strong opinions (as do many other SBC pastors and leaders) about decisions made recently and am praying for what is to come. I am not disinterested, nor am I disengaged. I believe we owe it to those who have been harmed, abused, and impacted in the past to do the right things now. I have shared about that prior as well as other issues, so will not go into depth in this posting again.

But ultimately, on this day, I find myself thinking on the nature of God. The sovereign God whom I serve (whom I seek to serve wholeheartedly,) and worship never has to check social media to see what is trending or to discover the latest dust up regarding SBC life, or any other pertinent issue.

The God who is never surprised, never shocked, never taken aback, never not knowing what to do, and never at a loss for words is who he always has been and always will be.

This gives me assurance. This gives me hope and strength. This is my fear melter.

I know these to be true. God knows results of votes before they're counted. He knows appointments to offices and positions and callings of ministers and pastors before anyone else does. He knows about resignations and retirements prior to it ever happening. He is never surprised by the details in an email or letter. He knows. And he is Lord of all the details.

This does not mean that we are simply to throw our hands up and disengage in areas of church and community life believing that nothing we do matters because "God knows" but this reality of God's nature gives us not just hope, but strength for the day and the days to come.

Encouragement to Pastors

In the little sub-culture that I live known as the SBC, God is not uninvolved and he is fully aware of all that is happening at the denominational level (yes, I know, by the strict definition the SBC is not a denomination...but you understand what I mean, I hope) as well as the upper level of our non-hierarchical convention known as the local church.

In light of our autonomy as local churches, I know no one can tell a local church and its pastor what to do and how to do it. Yet, to my pastor friends I implore you to not lose hope. I encourage you to spend your time where you uniquely most valuable, and in some cases irreplaceable. This begins in your family, but follows closely in the local church God has blessed you to serve and shepherd. When you preach this coming Lord's Day to the flock, follow the Spirit's lead, study well, pray deeply, and do not allow the distractions of denominational issues become the message of the day. As you stand behind that holy desk (whether it be a pulpit like Spurgeon's, a music stand, or something in between) open the Word of God boldly and declare the truths within clearly. 

I encourage you in this...basically because I need to remind myself to do this weekly. 

I'm reminded of an old pastor of mine when I was in high school who would simply say to me "Just keep the main thing the main thing." I know it wasn't an original phrase of his, but it resonated then with me and continues to.

"What are we going to do?" Well, I would say we do what we have been as pastors and Christians, or at least what we should have been doing all along.

I tweet a Bible verse daily (thanks to Hootsuite, I just set it up automatically.) A friend once called me to let me know that something was wrong with my Twitter account as it kept tweeting the same Bible verse. I told him that was intentional, as a daily reminder to me and maybe to anyone who actually follows me that the calling as a Christian is a high calling. Our mission is clear. The gospel is true and how we live, act, and talk (even online) matters. So...it's my reminder. I need it daily.

 

So, if you're a bit overwhelmed about...well...everything, take heart. God is still on his throne. He is sovereign. He never fails and he remains constant - yesterday, today, and forever. And despite all that is happening and will happen in our SBC sub-culture, God is not shaken. In fact, just in case you need reminding, God is not relying on the SBC. It should be the other way around.


Running Low On Hope That the SBC Will Right This Ship

Sometimes in the Southern Baptist (SBC) bubble that I grew up within, serve within, and often live within, I think that everyone is talking about SBC issues and concepts all the time. The truth is the majority of my deeply politically-conservative, tradition-laden, church-on-every-corner, southern town is not Southern Baptist. The vast majority are not Christians and many only hold to a "God and country" version of American Christianity rather than a biblically convictional version. In other words, just like every other pastor and Christian I know, I live in the heart of a mission field where lostness has more reign than I desire.

If I am not careful, I will get sidetracked from the actual mission. Since I am a Southern Baptist and have been my entire life (I was Southern Baptist, at least on Sunday School roll, prior to my new birth moment) I often think in "Baptistese" utilizing a lexicon that not even all our church members understand (i.e. messengers, autonomy, Cooperative Program, IMB, NAMB, State Board of Missions, Executive Committee, UUPG, Lottie, Annie, etc.)

Within our SBC bubble things happen.

Good things happen.

Conventions occur annually on the state and national level. Associations and networks come together to intentionally fulfill the mandates of the Great Commission and Great Commandment for the glory of God. Board meetings and entity gatherings take place where saints intentionally pray and plan for wisdom to extend the reach of the gospel. Missionaries are sent. Churches are planted. Seminarians are trained. These are all good things (and the list is not extensive.)

But...bad things happen, too.

Sometimes this is unintentional. Sometimes...sadly it seems to be systemic. Maybe this is a result of brand-protection, propagation of a long-held buddy system, latent Christian celebrity making, or idol worship.

Then...yesterday. A Southern Baptist event took place that quickly moved to the front burner for many active and engaged SBC pastors and church members. I heard the phrase "the world is watching" from many and maybe that is so, but even if the world wasn't watching, I was. And more importantly, our Sovereign God was...and is.

What occurred was a special called meeting of the SBC Executive Committee (the managing and functioning agency for Cooperative Program issues and denominational decisions throughout the year excluding the two days when the actual Southern Baptist Convention is in session.) The polity of this organizational structure may seem strange to those who are not Southern Baptist, but suffice to say this group is the SBC decision-making group when the annual meeting is not in session. Yet, there is a very clear and specific caveat for this group. They work at the behest of the SBC and our messengers (voting representatives at our annual meeting sent from local, autonomous churches in good standing.) In June 2021 the SBC Annual Meeting took place in Nashville, Tennessee. It was one of the largest attended in numerous years due to two things - 1) the 2020 meeting cancellation due to COVID and 2) the genned-up in-house squabbles between factions hoping to get their respective man elected president. It was fun. Kind of like riding a roller coaster that makes you throw up all over your shirt is fun.

Our Most Recent Mess

Nevertheless, during the Executive Committee's presentation at our annual meeting where the intent was to unveil and promote a new vision for the SBC (It was unveiled, but this was no home run. It was welcomed with a collective "amen" that sounded more like "meh") a motion was made from the floor (remember - this is just a big Baptist business meeting) by messenger and pastor Grant Gaines regarding the widely-known sexual abuse scandals in many local churches and the response requested from the Executive Committee. His motion is below:

I move that the Southern Baptist Convention, meeting June 15-16, 2021, in Nashville, TN, ask the newly elected president of the SBC to appoint a task force within 30 days of the date of this Convention that shall be comprised of members of Baptist churches cooperating with this Convention and experts in sexual abuse and the handling of sexual abuse-related dynamics. This task force shall either assume oversight of the third-party review announced previously by the Executive Committee or initiate a separate third-party review. Said task force shall ensure that the third-party review includes an investigation into any allegations of abuse, mishandling of abuse, mistreatment of victims, a pattern of intimidation of victims or advocates, and resistance to sexual abuse reform initiatives. The investigation shall include actions and decisions of staff and members of the Executive Committee from January 1, 2000 to June 14, 2021. This investigation should include an audit of the procedures and actions taken by the Credentials Committee of the Southern Baptist Convention, which was formed at the Convention meeting in Birmingham, AL, June 11-12, 2019. The review shall be funded by allocations from the Cooperative Program.

We further move that the task force agree to the accepted best-standards and practices as recommended by the commissioned third-party, including but not limited to the Executive Committee staff and members waiving attorney client privilege in order to ensure full access to information and accuracy in the review. A written report on the factual findings of this review shall be presented to the task force 30 days prior to the SBC Annual meeting in 2022, and made public in full form within one week of the Task Force’s receipt of the report along with suggestions from the task force for actions to be taken by our convention.

The motion was discussed and voted upon. (Full disclosure - I voted to affirm the motion.) An overwhelming majority of messengers affirmed this and we left the annual meeting with the understanding that since the messengers had spoken, the things within the motion would be accomplished.

That is how it is supposed to be.

The Executive Committee is comprised of faithful Southern Baptists throughout our convention churches (pastors, church staff members, church members, men, women, young, median age, and older.)

A task force focusing on the sex-abuse issues of the SBC was put together and gave wise, strongly worded, step-by-step recommendations to the Executive Committee. The Executive Committee met recently and found themselves at an impasse regarding the motion. Delays were made and amendments to press on were defeated. The sticking point was the waiving of attorney-client privilege.

A special called meeting was held yesterday (September 28, 2021) via Zoom. The meeting was streamed live online and many, like me, did watch. Was it the "watching world?" Perhaps. There were certainly many Baptists watching. 

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Zoom meetings are the norm for many now. We use them in our church for committees and small group Bible studies. We use Zoom for local and state meetings. Yet, for this subject and with this much at stake for our convention, it became clear last night that a virtual meeting via Zoom was a poor choice. Despite the frustrating fact many apparently could not figure out how to mute/unmute, turn their cameras on/off, or vote electronically, there were bigger problems. The presentation showed a lack of professionalism, lack of decorum at times, inability to effectively count votes, and a revealed lack of respect for the SBC messengers by some, not all, on the committee. The recommendations from the sex abuse task force was disregarded. It was like watching a slow car wreck occur and those tuning in knew it would not turn out well.

The Enemy must love this stuff.

Sure enough, it did not turn out well. 

The fact that a vote on an amendment within the meeting had to take place by the committee members regarding whether or not they would do what they had been instructed to do by the messengers of the SBC causes me great concern. And I know some will say "But you just don't understand," or "You're not a lawyer," or "The messengers aren't privy to all the things this committee is privy to and they're just trying to protect the SBC," and other such things.

Those statements may be accurate.

Nevertheless, I am a Southern Baptist. And as a Southern Baptist I know our polity reveals that we are not a top-down, hierarchical denomination. We are a network of cooperating churches coming together for the sake of the gospel, to grow God's kingdom globally through evangelism, discipleship, and missions with doctrine and practices that conform to our confession of faith. It just seems to me that somewhere over the years a new system overtook the original programming. It's like a computer virus. It is a system that elevates brand over Bible. It's a system that says that people matter and that we care for the down-and-out, the hungry, the lonely, the abused, and the forgotten...but acts like it's more important to not be embarrassed publicly while doing more to promote programs, denominational efforts, and temporal issues that create celebrity pastors which harm greatly the church.

I have experienced much in SBC life over the years. I have heard angry preachers and angry Baptists attack one another at times.  Today I fear this moment may be the one that leaves more destruction, collateral damage, and unaddressed problems than we realize. 

Some are working to #DefundTheEC. There are cries by some to leave the SBC. A few are seeking to consider how to send funds to denominational entities of choice while eliminating the ones (in this case the Executive Committee) that anger them. A number of church planters are vocally wondering if they should remain in the Send Network and the SBC. 

Maybe it's just frustrated talk.

I doubt it.

I like to think that I mostly an optimist. Sometimes I doubt that I am an optimist. That makes me a pessimistic optimist. So, in my pessimistic optimism I believe that it is not too late. I want to believe that all those years and stories of sexual abuse survivors fighting for recognition, help, and justice will not continued to be ignored. I want to believe that when the majority of SBC messengers affirm a motion to do the right thing that those SBC agencies, entities, and committees given such assignments will stop hiding behind preference and legalese and do what they have been elected and appointed to do.

This is a watershed moment for the SBC. 

It is not too late to right the ship (I hope.) 

This means change must take place. That is most likely a change in leadership first, followed by a change in function and maybe structure. 

And maybe...please...can we stop having Zoom meetings like we just had so that our collective public embarrassment can be centered around issues and important topics rather than our inability to effectively utilize technology and behave like adults?


"When the New Wears Off" - A Reality of Church Planting

I have the great privilege of working with church planters in our city and throughout our state. I call these men front-line servants as many have stepped out in faith to launch and lead a local church that only previously existed in the mind of God. The endeavor requires faith. It calls for risk (though some do not like to use that word.) It is not easy. It is not supposed to be easy. Yet, it is right.

Welcoming new churches in a community, especially one as fast-growing as ours, is a bit of a challenge for many legacy churches and established pastors. Try as we might, there is this sense of competition that often rears its head. As a long-time pastor of a one-hundred year old church (no I'm not the planter who started this church) it requires constant focus to remember that kingdom work is something I have been invited into, and the kingdom is not mine. Thus, newer churches in our community where the number of residents continues to increase should not be considered a bad thing. This is why I intentionally work with planters, seek to help them find sending churches if that is missing, and coach them through our local association of churches and our Send Network. If I simply ignore the need for these new works, I know what I will do. I know me. I will drift into a small kingdom mindset that focuses solely on the "success" and vitality of the local church where I serve. Now, I should be focused on these things, but tunnel vision will develop and I will cease to see how God is at work in our community. I do not naturally drift toward Kingdom-mindedness. I must intentionally move there.

Thus, I get to spend quite a bit of time with pastors launching new churches. Some are further along than others. Some struggle with common realities. Whether it is the gathering of the right people for the right roles in launch team or securing a facility to gather, stressors exist. 

I believe there may be more resources now than at any time in recent church history. The movement of church planting and the similar movement of church revitalization have led to the development of many helps for the fledgling pastor.

I will meet with a cohort of planters this week. It will be the final meeting of our group. These men are planting churches throughout the state of Florida and due to the great diversity of our state, each church looks different from the others. Each church's community is unique and context is varied.

The church planting factory is running 24/7 now and experts abound. Yet, once you get beyond the practical helps, the templates, the "you have to do it this way" instructions, and all that comes after being labeled a church planter, the long, tedious, hard work remains.

And eventually...the shine wears off the new toy.

It is in these moments when the church planter looks around realizing that no one wants to set up chairs any longer. The volunteers who loaded and unloaded the equipment are tired. The smiles are forced on many faces. The hours of preparation to preach the Word seem never ending. The post-sermon self-grading is horrendous because as much as you want to be Barnabas for others, you aren't for yourself.

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I love church planters.

I hate seeing them struggle.

I love church planters.

I hate when godly men who are not qualified nor called think their church planters.

I love church planters and their families.

I hate when their families suffer and the home life is not joyous.

Eventually, the shiny newness of the plant will dull. What then? There is this moment in all organizations when the question of "Are we going to keep doing this or is it time to quit?" has to be asked. Rarely is quitting the right thing. It is sometimes, but I lament when the towel is thrown in too early.

This is why sending churches and church plants must be truly connected. There must be a true relationship and not just a money funneling relationship. I fear that even some sending churches find themselves "collecting" plants for the purpose of sharing how "missional" they are, but are not truly engaging the new works well.

I have failed in far more ways as a sending church pastor than I care to share here. Yet, I know that we (our church particularly and all sending churches) must do better. 

And it is not all on the sending church. Church planters need to give permission to others (mentors, friends, fellow pastors, etc.) to speak into their lives in honest ways. The church planter needs to remember that he is not God's answer to the lost and dying world. He must remember that God is not in heaven saying "Whew! I am so glad this guy became a church planter. He can finally fix all that the other churches throughout history have done wrong." (I'm being facetious, but it is a good reminder.)

When the new wears off...if the church is God's intention, if the planter is qualified and called, he must press on (not out of guilt, but through the strength of the Spirit.) He must persevere and remember he cannot do it alone. The same is true for the sending or legacy church pastor. It is not like the older guys are not guilty of workaholism and believing everything must go through them. 

We need each other. It is God's intention that we do not do life alone. Even Paul had partners in ministry throughout his missionary journeys. Throughout history, there have always been "one anothers" in the gospel stories.

The "new" will wear off. There will be days when ministry is not fun. We know this, but when we experience them, we often wonder if it is worth the effort to press on.

It is.

Oh, and you can take a day or two (or more) off. I hope my wife doesn't read this because I'm not good at doing this, but I know it is right. And if you have brothers in your city whom you trust, that pastor nearby, who love you dearly...you will have someone who can "fill the pulpit" for you every so often. 

 


Facing the Reality That Your Church Has Changed

"Your church is perfectly positioned and staffed to reach a people who no longer exist."

I first heard a Christian leader make that statement about fifteen years ago. His point was that often churches of a certain age find themselves overwhelmed by decades of programmatic, event-driven, historically successful strategies that were not and are not necessarily sinful, but over time become ineffective. Thus, your church may still be filling its calendar with elements designed to reach...people who are no longer in the community or attending the church.

Change Leads to Pastoral Frustration

I have discovered that I often do not think the way other pastors of churches think. This is not because I have some secret knowledge others do not or some insight that others have yet to gain. It is because I am weird. Yep, that's it. I tend to ask questions that others never consider and I just do not know better than to ask. Sometimes, I am like that four-year-old who responds to everything his parents say with "Why?" or the even deeper question of "But...why?"

It can be frustrating and I'm sure my frustration frustrates those who are part of the church I serve.

Yet, I still ask the questions. 

I still wonder why we do things we do. I wonder why things are the way they are. So I ask.

I do my best to look toward a place that is truly impossible to see - the future - to hopefully get a handle on trends and cultural shifts so that we as a church can be positioned well to present the never-changing, life-redeeming message of the gospel to the yet unreached.

"This is Not Your Father's Oldsmobile"

Now this dates me and those who are not at least fifty-years-old likely have no idea what I'm referencing. Yet, I'll attempt to explain.

Back in ancient history the company known as General Motors produced a line of vehicles under the brand name "Oldsmobile." Oldsmobile was positioned in the auto industry to reach a specific target market. 

At one point, Oldsmobile was focused toward an older demographic. Eventually, the market-share shrunk and GM was basically competing with itself (since Buick and Cadillac also targeted the same group.) Thus, in the mid-1980s Oldsmobile began running an ad campaign under the by-line "Not your father's Oldsmobile." The commercials featured actors who had starred in older television shows or movies along with their adult children. I remember ones featuring William Shatner and Leonard Nimoy of "Star Trek." They were in the cars with their respective children and the adult children were shocked at how sporty the new Olds were. Thus..."This is not your father's Oldsmobile" was then stated and plastered on the screen.

It was catchy and creative. Apparently, not enough though as the Olds brand was soon discontinued. Yet, that phrase stuck with me and in church life where the retirement of long-dead programs and outdated emphases remains, the marketability of "This is not your father's church" seems to resonate.

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Of course, when I speak of this type of branding and marketing of the local church, I am not speaking of the abandonment of timeless truths, the value of the Lord's Day, the doctrines that define us, or the inerrancy of God's Word. Those and other vital elements of who we are as Christians and our message are timeless and never change and should never be tampered.

Yet, as most of us who grew up in church know, there are elements that were used by God for a season, but the season ended. In these cases, change has to happen. Otherwise, the church ceases to to be faithful to the calling God has given and ends up existing in a form that exists solely for itself.

Some struggle with this reality, but it does not make it any less true.

Many of our Baptist churches in need of revitalization or replanting now have faithful remnants of brothers and sisters in Christ serving and seeking to survive in their communities. Yet, even by their own admission, walking into the church is like stepping back in time. Back in time not to a moment of biblical focus and holiness, but just back a few decades to a time when said church was reaching its community and had more people in the gathering.

And Then...The Pandemic

There has been much written for many years regarding contextualization and the changing landscape of church planting, sustaining, and community engagement. Then COVID-19 hit and suddenly what smart people said would happen within the coming decade occurred within a span of weeks. 

Churches who refused or never thought seriously about online streaming, online giving, or online anything were reevaluating their strategies. Pot-luck meals went the way of the buffet restaurants. BST (Baptist Standard Time) for all meetings, services, Sunday schools, etc. was erased. A year's worth of events and programming disappeared. And...many pastors and ministry leaders whose job description and in some cases personal identities were defined by what they do (or did) rather than in who they are began to struggle. All the "Ministers of..." and "Associate Pastors to..." that were tasked a certain age group, ministry element, or program found themselves wondering what to do since their gatherings and programs were gone. Of course, this is an over-simplification as pastors and ministers truly focus on people, but it is easy for one to slide into busyness and tasks. It happens to all of us at some point, I guess.

Suddenly, discovering how to connect and reconnect became paramount. How to "do church" when how we "did church" was unavailable. The longing for "getting back to normal" began to be shared. And now, despite the delta variant, many churches are back to meeting in person. Programs are rebooted and structures are being reset. But...in many cases, the church has changed. In some cases it has been dramatic.

A great crowd for many on a Sunday gathering is very much smaller than pre-pandemic. A shift has happened. Now, we must adjust.

This is not your father's church...and it's not even the church you attended pre-pandemic in some cases.

When I arrived at our church to begin serving in pastoral ministry our community was much different. It was 1994. The population was smaller. The number of homes within a drivable distance was much less. Average incomes of those living near our church was significantly higher than now. There were fewer schools, fewer churches, and much history to preserve.

It is now 2021 and as I stated to our congregation a few Sundays ago - we cannot pretend that we are the church we were when we were the only conservative Baptist (or evangelical) show in town. Our mission field has changed and in some cases, we have pretended nothing has happened. A new coat of paint on a wall does not fix long-deferred maintenance. 

There is no going back, but there is a way forward.

We cannot simply ignore the mission field that exists in the present, pretending we are who we were in the past (with the numbers in the room we had at that time and the budget we had then) and be faithful to be who God has us here to be right now.

Reality Checks Are Good

So, let's just be honest. People ask me how many members we have at our church. I normally answer "I have no idea" but I do know on the books we have about four times as many "members" as we do who attend and participate in ministry. This has been the case for decades yet has been exacerbated due to our pandemic-infused online only era of church gatherings. Thus, we have bogus numbers. And our church is not alone. 

Numbers are our friends, but only if they're accurate.

Can the brand of our church survive a dose of reality? What if we begin to admit our church is not as big as it used to be, or as big as the church down the street? What if we actually look in the mirror and see who we are, then look out the window to see who really lives nearby. If we continue to seek to reach people who do not exist we will ultimately be successful in reaching nobody. 

Change is a pain. I don't like it, but it can be helpful.

Ignoring reality is a sign of pending death. I am thankful for who we really are (and for who really is in the room - or online) and believe the never-changing God has kept us here for his glory and ultimately for our good and our community's good. Rear view mirrors are great, but there's a reason they're smaller than the front windshield. 

Maybe you needed that reminder as well. God is sovereign and maybe he has been shrinking our imagined crowds of self-defined "Gideon's army"  to those who are truly disciples and will be used for the work ahead.


The "Constructive Criticism" Offered to Worship Leaders Is Often Just Criticism

Most often after a church calls a senior pastor, the next leadership position to be filled, if they are able to pay more than one staff person, is a worship leader (or Minister of Music/Worship Pastor.) 

There is no biblical office of "worship leader" in the church. That does not mean the position is unnecessary or anti-biblical. Some churches hire worship leaders while others call worship pastors. There is a distinction. Any pastor or elder in a local body is bound by the calling and qualifications as defined in Scripture. A worship leader may or may not be considered a pastoral role. That is dependent on the local church.

The Worship Leader

On a Q & A posting from gotquestions.org, the following explanation is given in part as to the role of a worship leader:

Because worship leader is not a biblical office for the church, his role is somewhat indistinct. Most worship leaders are musicians of some kind, whether vocal or instrumental, and their primary role is to lead the other musicians/singers that are involved in the service. It is the responsibility of the worship leader to ensure that it is not the music, nor the instruments, nor the presentation, nor the voices which are the focus of the worship service. Worship is bowing humbly before God and exalting Jesus Christ as King of kings and Lord of lords. The responsibility of the worship leader is to become less, that Jesus Christ can become more. And when all of this is done, when hearts are humble before Him, His people are ready to receive, and be changed by, the focal point of the worship service—His glorious and living Word.

Beyond the requirements a church may have for paid worship leaders and the clear biblical requirements of one who also serves as an associate pastor/elder in the church, the reason I believe this position may be one of the most challenging in the church is due to the constant pressure placed upon him from church members and congregants.

This posting is not about the biblical, theological, or personal issues regarding a worship leader at a local church (though those must be high on the list for anyone standing before the church body in any position of leadership,) but rather about the pressures placed on those who work weekly in planning and preparing the gathered church's worship on the Lord's Day.

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In a conversation with our worship pastor earlier this week he stated "This has been the most difficult year in ministry for me regarding worship on the Lord's Day." I presumed he was speaking of the pressures related to COVID and the institution of online services, socially distanced gatherings, masks/no masks, a consolidation of campuses, and all that we faced together as a church. While those certainly added to the strain, he declared that never in his decades of pastoral ministry has he faced such a continual barrage of constructive criticism on how to do his job better. 

He was not whining. He is up to the task, but I asked and he was honest and shared things I did not know. I am confident he is not alone and thus, I hope to help all of us be more aware as we move forward as local leaders and churches.

I have always believed the role of leading worship in churches must be one of the most challenging. Since many churches have for years borrowed marketing strategies from Madison Avenue and shifted with themes, music styles, and scheduling, an unintentional result has been that they (we) often unwittingly create a sales/customer mindset on Sunday mornings.

The mantra for customer service in the business world has often been "The customer is always right." Recently this has led to the birth of the "Karen meme" (sorry to all the nice Karens out there) that features an image of an angry, entitled woman with a particular hairstyle demanding to talk to a "manager" for any number of reasons.

I don't really believe the entitlement attitude is overwhelming among members of  local churches like ours, but the idea that as we sit in rows on Sunday mornings that all that is to come is designed for our enjoyment is very real. Thus, as we lament the growth of consumer Christianity, we must admit this is the monster we created.

Sometimes We "Hear" What Is Not Being Said Aloud

Over the past few months as churches have gathered for worship and leaders have sought to honor God and lead well, comments have offered to worship leaders that have been intended to be encouraging and constructive. In most cases they are, but there are times when what is said verbally is drowned out by what is not said, but perceived.

I imagine what worship leaders hear is similar to what pastors hear at times. For instance when a well-intentioned church member encourages me to listen to another pastor's sermon because it was "soooo good" I know that is likely meant to encourage. Yet, I often hear, "If you only preached like this guy...you'd be worth listening to." I know it is not fair, but I am just being honest. And yes, I know that is all on me as my personal insecurity leads me to often hear what is not being said.

So, in that vein, here is what worship leaders hear and what they really hear based on what I have been told:

  • "I like it when the choir leads" (which sounds like "I hate when the praise band leads.")
  • "I like it when the praise band leads" (which sounds like "I hate when the choir leads.")
  • "I love it when you sing the old hymns" (which sounds like "I hate when you sing newer choruses.")
  • "I love the new choruses" (which sounds like "I hate the boring old hymns.")
  • "When is so-and-so going to sing a solo again" (which may mean simply that "I love hearing that person sing" but often misses that "that person" only shows up for solos, does not do anything else with the church or worship ministry, is good at karaoke only, has disqualified himself/herself from standing on the stage due to other issues in life, or may not actually be someone who can sing well and will never get a solo again.)
  • "You did really well today in leading us in worship" (which sounds like "Every other week is mediocre at best.")
  • "Oh, I didn't hear the music today because I didn't get into the worship center until after the music was over." (which sounds like - "The music is optional, like watching trailers before the movie, so often I just skip that part.")
  • "The drums are too loud!" (which means either "I hate the drums" or "The drums are too loud.")
  • "When are we going to do ______ again?" - fill in the blank with whatever musical presentation, choir special, solo, production, etc. that was done years prior. (which often means - "I only like that one thing we did years ago and until we do that again, I'm not going to be happy.")
  • "When are the kids or teenagers singing on Sunday again?" (which is often perceived as being a question not related to worship, but related to viewing the Lord's Day worship as a recital or a school chorus event. Sadly, some only attend when their progeny are on the stage. This unknowingly teaches a generation that church is a platform for performance, not a family gathered weekly for the glory of God.)
  • "I love it when so-and-so leads worship." (which often sounds like "Anyone but you is better.")
  • "The livestream audio is not good" (which often means...well, that the livestream audio mix is not good, but seriously the worship leader does not need to hear this ALL THE TIME because he likely knows and is working on it. And...to state the obvious in the comments on the livestream is not helpful.)

Just about every church I know is doing their very best to honor God well through all they do together throughout the week and on the Lord's Day. This includes solid, biblical preaching and worship through music that honors God and has good, biblically-sound lyrics to songs. So, let's give the worship leaders some grace (meaning..."Give him a break people!") and remember that we are not customers, we don't need to speak to a manager, and music on Sunday mornings is not a Spotify station designed simply for our tastes and pleasure.

Also...it's probably the Senior Pastor's fault anyway, not the worship leader.

Keep Encouraging - It's Like Fuel to Our Soul

The good news is that the vast majority of the people I call my church family are truly encouraging - like Barnabas - and truly seek to worship well and live by the theme "It's not about me." May their tribe increase throughout all our churches.

As for our Worship Pastor here at our church...he is a called, licensed, and ordained man of God intent on glorifying God as a pastor/shepherd and focused on leading God's flock to the throne of grace each time we come together. I have often said that of all those I know (and I am biased) he is first a pastor and secondly a worship leader. For that I am very thankful. I pray that his next year (and those after) will not be categorized as "the worst in his ministry" but the best.


Becoming a Foster Church

Our city, not unlike many others that are growing, has a rich history, numerous neighborhoods, distinct communities...and many churches in our denominational family of various ages, histories, sizes, and stages on the life cycle. Within our own denominational identity, there are over two-hundred Baptist churches who cooperate and network together in our Jacksonville Baptist Association

Our desire as member churches of the association is to see each church engage their community for Christ, equip their members to become disciples who make disciples, and expand God's kingdom through evangelism and discipleship. There are a number of our churches that would be considered healthy. A good number have come out of the pandemic with a refined focus, a cleaner calendar, and a more strategic ministry plan. It is encouraging to see so many autonomous churches and their pastors willingly locking arms with sister churches for the sake of the kingdom.

While many are experiencing a healthy reset now, there are others who are teetering on the verge of closure. The pandemic is not why the churches may close, but it is clear that the last year has accelerated the urgency in these mostly smaller, older, pastor-less churches located in communities that have often changed dramatically over the years.

We Are Not Adding Church Campuses

In our church's recent past, we expanded by adding campuses in different communities. God used our campus expansion efforts in ways that we may not fully understand for years. At a minimum, our campus movement shifted the mindset of members from being primarily internally-focused to being more externally and mission-focused. The "normality" of sending people to serve in rented spaces, near people separated from our primary campus by barriers (such as divided highways, gated communities, railroad tracks, waterways, bridges, and other such items identified by anthropologists as being barriers to connections for people groups) for the sake of reaching more with the gospel was vital. 

Yet, as the pandemic continued, we began reevaluating our strategy and while many churches have found and continue to find great success in planting campuses (you know the "one church - many locations" strategy) we believed this was not the present strategy God was leading our church to continue. Therefore, we pulled our campuses back, began gathering together in one location (and online) as family on the Lord's Day, with a more focused intentionality of helping start new church plants and to work with existing churches in need of revitalization (or replanting.)

To be clear, I am not against churches having campuses. In fact, the model is working well for many and people are coming to Christ and serving in churches who are doing this. I discovered God has not equipped nor gifted me to manage campuses well. It was a stark revelation that I need to lead where God has called me and how God has gifted me and to stop jumping ahead with "good ideas" that may not be "God's ideas" for our local church. 

Thus, at this point, we do not have multiple campuses.

But, We Are Becoming a Foster Church

What is a foster church?

This was a new term for me. We are blessed to have JimBo Stewart from NAMB as part of our associational lead team. He explained the concept and is championing this in our area. Here is an overly-simplified description–it is like foster care for a child (kinda.)

In foster care, a family is vetted by the state to become temporary guardians for children at risk. In a healthy situation, these foster parents receive word that a child is in need of a temporary home. At times, it is due to an at-risk situation where a child must be removed from a home. The foster family welcomes the child, provides for basic needs, offers healthy guidelines for living, and allows the child to remain in the home until the time is proper and safe for the child to be returned to his/her home, or is adopted into a new family.

As a foster church, we come alongside a church in crisis. The church in crisis has come to a place of great need. Perhaps their membership has dwindled to just a handful of people. These faithful few are committed to bring glory to God, desire to reach their community, long for the Lord's Day to be one of gathered worship, Bible teaching, fellowship, and gospel declaration as it was in the past. Yet, they know that due to their numbers, their collective ages, their financial situation, and more, they will not be able to right the ship alone.

They need help.

That's when a foster church is introduced. It is a unique relationship, because it sustains the autonomy of both churches, but when the needy church agrees to come into such a relationship with a larger, more healthy church, they do so much like a child who is placed in a foster family. 

The goal is temporary guardianship with the eventual release to a healthy, sustainable church-life. 

Our Fostering Relationship

Over the next few weeks, a smaller church in great need located in Jacksonville will be deciding if they desire to come under our leadership for a season of fostering. If they do, an agreement will be signed. We will work with the membership there to make changes, start community engagement opportunities, modernize their gathering space, and ultimately to provide pastoral care for these dear brothers and sisters. One of our associate pastors will transition to the smaller church to serve as pastor. He will provide pastoral leadership for this smaller church. We will be "sending" him, his wife, and four young sons to serve there, but we will be serving alongside him. This is not unlike sending a church planter to launch a new work. In this case, we are sending a pastor/replanter to lead in revitalization of a current church.

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A church revitalization effort often takes between five and seven years, so this is not a short-term journey. Our desire is to join God where he is working, to keep a gospel witness alive and well in a community that desperately needs it, and to be the church that continues to be who we must be for our community, while seeking to partner with others so that the gospel may be spread in our larger context, and throughout the world.

In this new, potential relationship (pending the smaller church's willingness to come under our wings,) other churches in our city asked to invest and participate as well. Just imagine numerous churches coming together to provide life support for a sister church who is barely hanging on! We do not step into this so that we can become the "hero" of the story. We step into this because we are our brother's keeper and not only is it the right thing to do, it is the godly thing to do. We know that when this chapter is done and the church is no longer under our "foster care" God alone will receive the glory and we can say "Look what He has done!"

This is the church at work. This is how a local network of churches comes together for the glory of God and for all our good. 

If we truly love where we live, we will love those who live where we live as well.


The 2021 Southern Baptist Convention Annual Meeting Is Over...So Now What?

I knew the questions would come once I returned home from Nashville. 

These are legitimate and right questions. 

Members of the church I pastor want to know what happened in Nashville at the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) annual meeting. They have seen the news reports, the tweets, the blog posts, and one said "I've read from so many different places about the SBC. I think I am more confused about what is going on now than I was a week ago."

I have also discovered that not only do many members of local Southern Baptist churches not fully understand the polity of our convention and annual meeting (most of us never take time to explain it,) there are also a number of local church leaders who are confused about it and a good number of the 15,000+ who gathered in the room that still are trying to put the pieces together.

Unlike other denominations (and the SBC is not truly considered a denomination due to the autonomous nature of member churches) we do not have a top-down hierarchy. Yet, we do have polity. We do have cooperative agreements. We do have a statement of faith that gives us clarity regarding our doctrinal beliefs and structure. 

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Southern Baptist Convention Annual Meeting 2021


When the SBC meets annually for our meeting, it truly is a convention. In fact, the two days of our meeting between the opening and closing gavel hits, the SBC exists. Outside those two days, there really is no convention. This is eye-opening for many. Not unlike the Republican National Convention, the Democratic National Convention, the National Pipefitters Convention, the DAV National Convention, or even ComicCon (Comic Book & Sci-fi Convention) for example, the SBC is simply... a convention. There is allotted meeting space. There are groups that gather for meals. There are seminary alumni gatherings. There is an exhibit hall, complete with booths representing many ministries and groups (complete with freebies and bowls of candy.) 

For the remaining 363 days each year, the SBC Executive Committee acts as the SBC ad interim, or between annual meetings. (More here on the EC.)

During the convention meeting, which is simply a huge business meeting of Southern Baptists, decisions are made, resolutions are proposed, reports are given, speeches (and sermons) are offered, and votes are taken.

The SBC does not have delegates. Churches do not send representatives. Churches who cooperate within SBC associations and state conventions send "messengers." 

Here's a brief synopsis of who can send messengers:

The SBC Bylaws state that a church must have indicated it is in “friendly cooperation with the Convention and sympathetic with its purposes and work” and have made financial contributions to Convention work in the fiscal year preceding the annual meeting in June in order to seat messengers. The fiscal year ends on September 30 each year.

Each qualifying church automatically receives two messengers and can qualify for up to ten additional messengers based on the level of financial support the church has given to Convention causes (see SBC Constitution, Article III, for greater detail.)

If a church is recognized by a cooperating state or regional Baptist convention as a cooperating church and makes CP contributions through the state convention, the church’s name is forwarded to the SBC through the state’s Annual Church Profile report as a church in friendly cooperation with the Convention. (SBC.net)

At this year's meeting our worship pastor and I served as messengers from First Baptist Church of Orange Park.

This year's meeting was different than in year's past. The attendance was more than double from recent years. There were significant issues brought to the messengers to be addressed. On the heels of resolutions related to Critical Race Theory & Intersectionality (CRT/I) and the sex abuse scandal revealed in the Houston Chronicle article of February 2019, it is sufficient to say that not every messenger was walking in unity with others as our convention began.

Is the SBC Drifting?

Depending on which news reports you read, which videos you watch, and if you're on Twitter, which Baptists you follow, the messages regarding theological drift are varied.

There is a group that has come together decrying the liberal drift of the SBC. They have formed a network within the SBC called the Conservative Baptist Network (CBN.) It seemingly launched as a grassroots effort a year ago with the purpose of "righting the ship" of the SBC and the perceived liberal drift that is occurring. 

The steering council of the team represents (for the most part) conservative SBC pastors and leaders. Former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee is an interesting choice for the council. Though he previously served as an SBC pastor in Arkansas, he is apparently attending a non-denominational, egalitarian church now. I do not know most of the others on the council, but those I do know have been faithful Southern Baptists for years. While I disagree with them, they believe the CBN is needed.

I Don't Believe We Need To Fix What Isn't Broken

I do not believe the CBN is needed. In fact, I do not believe we need a Conservative Baptist Network because I believe the SBC is the network of conservative Baptists. That statement will likely get me some eye rolls and perhaps some social media arguments. Nevertheless, I do believe it is the case and I do not desire to debate regarding it.

SBC Presidential Election

Some have asked me if position of SBC President is simply symbolic with no real power. While "power" may not be the term I would use, the role is more than symbolic.

My friend, Pastor Jon Beck of First Baptist Church Avon Park, Florida, wrote this for his church members who were wondering about such as his church's messengers prepared to attend the annual meeting:

The Election for SBC President

Why is this important?

  • President appoints the Committee on Committees
  • C on C nominates the Nominations Committee (voted on by messengers)
  • Nominating Committee Nominates Trustees (voted on my messengers)
  • Trustees lead and oversee the Entities

SBC Entities

The Southern Baptist Convention conducts its work throughout the year through eleven ministry entities, the SBC Executive Committee (which serves as “the fiduciary, the fiscal, and executive entity of the Convention”), and an auxiliary called Woman’s Missionary Union.

  • SBC Executive Committee
  • Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission (ERLC)
  • GuideStone Financial Resources
  • International Mission Board (IMB)
  • Lifeway Christian Resources
  • North American Mission Board (NAMB)
  • Theological Seminaries
    • Gateway Seminary of the Southern Baptist Convention 
    • Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary (MBTS)
    • New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary(NOBTS)
    • Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary (SEBTS)
    • The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary (SBTS)
    • Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary (SWBTS)
  • Woman’s Missionary Union (WMU)

Pastor Beck's full posting is here.

There were four men nominated this year to serve the one-year term of SBC President. One is a state convention leader. One is a seminary president. Two are local pastors. Opinions on these men were varied, as was evidenced by the pre-annual meeting social media blasts and campaign videos.

I hate that our election of SBC President left me with some of the same "icky feelings" that our national elections elicit. Baptists are not immune to name-calling (though it is often couched in Christianese...meaning some just add the word "Brother" before the diatribe calling out another.) 

Ultimately, each of these men is my brother. Each has be redeemed by the blood of Jesus Christ. They each have a story to tell of when they were lost, when the Spirit of God drew them to the Father, and when they each surrendered their lives to Christ as Lord. 

In other words...each of these men will spend eternity in heaven. To God alone be the glory!

Yet, only one would be elected president of the SBC in 2021. 

After a run-off election (since no candidate had over 50 percent of the vote the first go-round) Pastor Ed Litton was elected President of the SBC. 

Despite what some have declared, Litton is not an egalitarian. He is not a liberal. He is not a moderate. 

Ed Litton has served his church well and has been an asset to Southern Baptists for years. He and his wife have supported and served pastors and pastors' wives, especially church planters, well for years. 

Regardless who won the election, I knew some would cry foul. Everyone knew this. And now, some are crying foul. 

Ed Litton needs our prayers. The SBC may very well be at a crossroads and future annual meetings may be just as challenging. Yet, I believe God is not worried about that. Perhaps this our "for such a time as this" moment.

The SBC Remains Faithful to Biblical Truth

The warnings against liberal theological drift should always be addressed. Left alone, without a rudder, any ship will drift. Mainline Protestant denominations in America have for the most part not only drifted, but have gone full speed ahead into liberal theological worldviews. This began many decades ago and if not for the conservative resurgence within the SBC in the 1970s and 1980s, our Convention would have been lost. Yet, holding to the anchor of biblical inerrancy led to a turn toward biblical fidelity and conservative theology. I believe this was necessary and am thankful for those who fought the good fight for the sake of doctrine, for the glory of God and the good of our churches.

While some do believe we are now going that very same way, I disagree. Our statement of faith (Baptist Faith & Message 2000) remains intact. We took no steps to reword it, amend it, or change it this year. There was no need to do so. Our confessional statement is solid and allows for autonomous Baptist churches to cooperate together with like-minded Baptists within a larger story.

Questions regarding CRT/I may not have been answered to some's liking, but the resolution approved by messengers on Tuesday, June 15 "On the Sufficiency of Scripture for Race and Racial Reconciliation" was worded well and sufficient in my opinion. I do not believe that Southern Baptists (as a whole, as churches, or as entities) use CRT/I as their measuring line for understanding racial issues from a biblical perspective. I do believe it is wise for Christians to at least understand the concepts of this belief system to understand where others may be coming from regarding race relations and racial issues. To some, that statement will never be enough. To others, it is likely too much. Nevertheless, I hold that when any teaching is elevated over the inerrant Word of God, the one holding that teaching has failed. God's Word alone has the final say. 

Yet, to discount the reality of what has been deemed systemic racism and to ignore the hurt and suffering those of minority races have experienced would be sinful as well. 

Where Do I Stand?

I am an inerrantist. I believe the Bible is true from beginning to end, without error. I am a complementarian. I affirm the Baptist Faith and Message (2000.) I am a pastor and my primary calling, after my family, is to the membership of First Baptist Church of Orange Park. I am called to shepherd, teach, preach, pray, and protect. 

If at any point I believed the SBC was heading toward an unbiblical, liberally theological, man-centered belief system, I would oppose the SBC as best I could and if that did not lead to change, I would lead our church to disfellowship with the SBC and other member churches. But...I do not believe that is happening now. So I remain and am pleased to be a Southern Baptist (though I think Great Commission Baptist is the better name.)

Some of my friends and pastors of sister churches will disagree with me. They have in the past. That's okay. I disagree with them, too. (Just not on Twitter.) Yet, I pray that our love for the Lord and for one another will sustain us. 

The SBC annual meeting is truly a great family reunion. Some often reference the "crazy relatives" who attend. (If you cannot name the "crazy relative" then you may be who they're talking about.) Regardless, I love these men and women in our SBC family. I am praying for better days ahead. I am no SBC apologist, but I am not ready to abandon this ship.

The 2021 annual meeting is over. The fields remain ready for harvest. There's work to be done.


Southern Baptists Will Have To Decide If We Truly Are "Great Commission Baptists"

Every year when our Southern Baptist Convention gathers, banners and logos are pasted upon the host city's convention center. There are often placards throughout the city, near the hotels and where SBC messengers will be walking. It is no different than any other convention with a theme.

Each year's theme is presented by the current president of the SBC. J.D. Greear has been our president for three years thanks to the pandemic (the terms are for one-year only, and traditionally presidents will run for two concurrent terms.) In 2019, Greear announced the theme for the Birmingham meeting would be "Gospel Above All." In 2020, the announced theme for the since canceled Orlando meeting was "GSPL: Above All. Always." Apparently, 2020 was to be the year we avoided vowels (just kidding J.D.) I actually thought our 2021 theme would just be the 2020 one carried over, but when the Nashville theme was announced a change was clear. The 2021 theme for our meeting next week is "We Are Great Commission Baptists." 

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I'm anticipating (well hoping) a responsive reading at each session that will hearken back to cheer from the film "We Are Marshall!" Maybe Greear can just go to the platform and say "WE ARE..." and the messengers can respond "GREAT COMMISSION BAPTISTS!" But, alas, I doubt that will happen. Not because Baptists are against responsive readings or even gleaned university football cheers. It will not happen because even the theme likely would cause controversy. I'm sure it already has. 

Statements like "I thought we were SOUTHERN Baptists!" would resound. I can anticipate a question brought to the messengers and leaders from a well-meaning messenger who just cannot understand why we would avoid using the word "Southern." Then, of course, a messenger representing a church in Michigan, Oregon, Toronto or some other locale north of the Mason-Dixon line or west of Texas would stand at another microphone with a response akin to "We're not all in the south." And then...someone else would reference our collective history which includes slaveholders seeking to be missionaries, avoidance of civil rights issues, Martin Luther King, Jr., and maybe even the historical value or racial implications of the Confederate flag. 

It is clear that I have attended more than a few of our annual meetings.

Nevertheless, my Southern Baptist Convention has more issues this year than determining the theme for the annual meeting. It is just that as I plan my journey to Nashville, sign up for the pre-SBC Send Conference, gather my tickets to alumni luncheons and other meetings, I keep seeing "We Are Great Commission Baptists" everywhere.

I like the theme.

I really do.

I just wonder if it is true.

Is "Great Commission Baptists" declarative for who we are or is it aspirational for who we desire to be?

I know no Southern Baptist who would deny the value or commands that are included in the Great Commission (mostly looking at the Matthew 28:19-20 reference.) I know no one in my own church that would say it is unimportant. Yet, I also know that even in my own life, I do not always live and serve in such a way that keeps the "Gospel Above All" and as a Christ-commissioned disciple.

What must a Great Commission Baptist be? That's the question. Clearly it should not be presumed that every Southern Baptist knows what this means. It also should not be presumed that when verbal affirmation of the Great Commission is given that practical, lived-out actions automatically follow.

While we joke that Baptists love a good controversy and fight, it is actually evidence of our sin nature and our loss of focus upon the gospel.

I read an article by a former Southern Baptist, Erick Erickson regarding the current SBC issues. While you may or may not like Erickson's writings, statements, or beliefs in other areas, in this statement I fear he is sadly correct. Erickson stated:

A group within the SBC has decided to organize politically in response to some perceived liberalism creeping in. I have a lot of friends in the group and some who are on the outside and share the concerns. But, from my vantage point, it seems they’ve decided every fight is a matter of orthodoxy and anyone who stands in their way can be smeared — it’s just politics after all.

Another group within the SBC seems to have responded almost in kind and are increasingly vocal about racial reconciliation and a host of other social justice issues. In countering those pushing hard against critical theory and perceived liberalism, they seem to have gone off to other extremes.

Both sides share something in common — defining themselves in opposition to the other instead of defining themselves in support of the gospel. The actually have something else in common too — they treat the others as if they are political enemies, not just opponents and neither has shame for doing so, just rationale and justification. (The SBC: I Have Some Thoughts)

I'm Really Concerned This Year!

I have received text messages and have heard from other Southern Baptist pastors on all sides of various controversies in recent weeks. The common theme has been "I'm really concerned this year." I hear this and agree.

I too am concerned. Yet, I'm less concerned that the "wrong" person wins a denominational election. I am more concerned that we may gather, have meetings in the big room and secret meetings in the hallways and smaller rooms. I am concerned that the real issues that must be addressed will not be. I am concerned that the things tabled in the past will never come up again. I am concerned that the Great Commission will be little more than a theme on a banner to be removed the evening following the final gavel and messengers will travel back to their respective homes reporting little more than political posturing, angry speeches, hurt feelings, with the few highlights being the restaurants in the city and the reconnections with old friends (those are not to be missed, by the way.)

But are we really going to be "Great Commission Baptists" who believe the "Gospel is Above All" in how we live, love, and serve our Lord?

I am just one pastor of a suburban church. We are not a mega-church. Our influence is small compared to others. I have a great church full of imperfect children of God who just want to see friends, neighbors, coworkers, and family members saved. We want to see disciples made. We want to be equipped to serve well, engage lostness intentionally, and see God's kingdom expand. 

That's what Great Commission Baptists should want. Right?

The Great Commission is clear. 

Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe everything I have commanded you. And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” (Matthew 28:19-20 CSB)

Great Commission Baptists who believe the gospel is above all will not allow:

  • Protecting a church's or denomination's brand by ignoring sin.
  • Nationalism over the gospel.
  • Abandonment of biblical fidelity (and inerrancy) in order to line up with the latest push from the moral revolution.
  • Political posturing disguised as theology (within the church, denomination, and the community.)
  • Abuse and victimization of others or protection of abusers. (Yes, we need a database of abusers.)
  • Idolatry of celebrity Christians (even in our own denomination.)
  • Legalism disguised as doctrinal gatekeeping. (And to be clear, I affirm strongly doctrinal fidelity as expressed in the Baptist Faith & Message 2000, so I'm not affirming weakening such. I just believe Pharisaical posturing is so very easy and often ignored.)
  • Racism.
  • Classism.
  • Local church autonomy to be diminished, but also will not use autonomy as a false barrier to dealing with very real issues of sin.
  • And numerous other items that conflict with "teaching them to observe everything I have commanded you"

This is what I believe.

I am not running for anything. I am just one messenger attending my Southern Baptist annual gathering. I look forward to connecting with friends, reconnecting with old ones, and making new ones. While others are working to get their designee elected, their agenda moved forward, and their battles won (all valiant desires,) I will be praying that our agenda will be usurped by the Holy Spirit early in our gathering. 

May we see change take place this year in Nashville. And may it be a change precipitated by repentance. I am praying we collectively experience a brokenness next week due to the realization that for far too long we have allowed our own agendas and posturing to take center stage.

WE ARE...

GREAT COMMISSION BAPTISTS!

(I hope.)


Getting the Church "Back to Normal" Is The Wrong Next Step

Our church like many others, has been slowly moving to what we hope may soon be categorized as the "post-pandemic era." We have gone through a series of steps, not unlike others, which has included social distancing, face masks, taped off seats, hand sanitizing stations, and numerous other things that have been recommended by the CDC and others. While some churches in our community have moved back to pre-pandemic schedules and events in full, others never shut down at all, and still others are yet to meet in person. 

These are trying days for church leaders seeking to know what to do next.

Online church services became the norm for many and while personally I like in-person services best, God has used our streaming services to keep us connected to church members as well as expand our reach to others. The streaming numbers are deceiving, unless you delve into what they mean. So, while I know we are not really reaching thousands through Facebook Live (since they count a 3-second view as someone scrolls by as a view) we have seen God use the online portal for his glory. In fact, we will be baptizing a brother in the coming weeks who first found our church online, watched us online for a few weeks, responded to the gospel through the "virtual invitation," and now is attending our church in person and will be a member of our church following his baptism.

"Getting Back to Normal" Is Not the Way Forward

The phrase "getting back to normal" has been stated by many. I have heard it from church members and others in our community. It is clear that the phrase has been a cry from those frustrated by all the pandemic has brought and it is totally understandable and right in many cases.

However, for our church, "getting back to normal" would be a huge step backward and if fully implemented could actually do great harm to our church. This has nothing to do with doctrinal foundations, biblical fidelity, or ministry callings. This would be a backward step for us as it would result in repopulating our calendar with the very same events and activities that existed prior to March 2020. This would also mean simply focusing on getting groups back to meeting in person in their same rooms, with the same structure, intent on gathering as they have for years. 

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In some cases, this may not be a huge issue, but in our case, it is clear that our practice of groups ministry slid into what was easiest and least disruptive in years past while our philosophy of groups ministry became little more than an aspirational concept.

In other words, we know that groups must multiply in order to be healthy. We know group leaders must have continually updated resources, relevant insights, doctrinal guardrails, and groups coaching to ensure that our philosophy of "leaders are learners" remains in place. But, this has not happened. Thankfully, we do have some great group leaders who love the Lord, study well on their own, and love their groups deeply. But, overall, we have not provided for them as we must.

Another aspect of philosophy not driving practice has been our very overt and clear statements regarding family equipping discipleship and the need for strategic and intentional intergenerational ministry within the church. I have written about this for years and the fact that ministry silos are so normative in our American evangelical world makes it difficult, if not impossible for church leaders to make the shift away from the programmatic structure during "normal" times.

But...we had a pandemic.

One thing the pandemic offered was the opportunity to pause every busy ministry and event-driven programmatic offering the church has been expected to do by the Christian consumers in our sub-culture.

Groups and intergenerational ministries are just two examples. These are very real examples in our church. Other churches may have other things that have been done for years that need to be retired. Some programs never need to return, as the era for their effectiveness no longer exists.

Be Careful...It's Easier To Do the Same Old, Same Old

But now, the calendar is being repopulated and it is frightening.

It is frightening because as days, weeks, and months move by, we find ourselves closer to a full reopening and our default and easiest next steps would be to do exactly what we were doing before the pandemic.

But we must not.

We cannot.

If we do, we not only will be stepping backward, but eliminating one of the greatest opportunities to right the ship in regards to biblically-centered philosophy of discipleship and ministry.

Our leadership team met earlier this week and I discovered after the meeting that we were doing exactly what I am warning we must not (and I was leading the way.) After thinking and praying through this since our meeting, I communicated with our staff that I know God has some great things in store for our church and to simply put back on the calendar all that we did prior (even if church members expect those programs and events to return) without praying through the steps, ensuring biblical fidelity, and seeing how they line up with our clear philosophy of ministry, mission, and vision we will be guilty of wasting the moment. 

Now What?

Now is the time.

It is not the time to "get back to normal."

It is not the time to go backward.

It is time to step into a ministry season that simultaneously remains the same and changes. We must remain centered on the gospel without compromise. That is not negotiable.

Yet, we must also be more intentional regarding intergenerational ministry, equipping the family (the entire church family,) fulfilling our commission to make disciples, and strategically seek ways to reach the people who actually exist near our church's address (and the expansive audience through social media and online connections.)

I am thankful for the men, women, boys, and girls who make up my church family. Once we take these steps forward, I look forward to seeing how God uses each one of these brothers and sisters for his glory as his church.


Christians, Pride Month, and the "Wrong Side of History"

The beginning of June used to signify the onset of summer, the end (or close to the end) of the school year, weddings, vacations, Vacation Bible Schools, summer camps, and other such events. Now, as you likely are aware simply because almost every major corporation has changed its social media logo, sports teams are selling specialized caps and t-shirts, and events, parades, and rainbow-themed gatherings abound, it is "PRIDE MONTH." It is a celebration of the self and it is global. 

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Photo credit: wuestenigel on VisualHunt.com

"Summer of Love is Love"

The trajectory has been short comparatively. Perhaps 2021 marks the moment where Pride Month is now perpetually considered mainstream in the culture. No longer is the emphasis something an advocacy group celebrates on the sidelines of mainstream culture. Now, those who do not celebrate, affirm, and love the month of pride are pushed to the margins of culture. To speak against such events results in an online bashing where being canceled is the norm.

The often used phrase "Don't be caught on the wrong side of history" is bandied about and some actually believe it to be valid.

And the moral revolution continues forward...leaving Christians who seek to live holy lives, who view life from a biblical worldview, who dare to call sin what it is, while truly attempting to love people without affirming ungodliness labeled as outliers, haters, those whom righteous people should ignore.

All because they're on the wrong side of history.

Our current moral revolution includes much more than a celebration of LGBTQ+ lifestyles. Elements such as no-fault easy divorce, abortion on demand, a shifting of weddings from a religious service to a destination event complete with Bridezillas, the redefinition of family, acceptance of polygamous marriages, and the growth of polyamorous relationships (the word "throuple" now exists,) are just some of the players in this hyper-fast revolution that is changing everything. Even the English language apparently no longer has rules as plural pronouns are to be accepted as singular based on the desires and whims of an individual. Not that long ago the word "trans" was mostly not understood by many people. Now it has moved to the forefront of the alphabet soup owned by the LGBTQ+ community.

Condemnation to Celebration

Dr. Theo Hobson is a liberal Anglican theologian. He authored a book titled God Created Humanism: The Christian Basis of Secular Values. While I am not recommending the book and there is no doubt that Dr. Hobson and I would disagree on most topics, his concise definition of what must happen in order to institute a moral revolution is spot on. He states...

  1. That which was condemned in the past must now be celebrated.
  2. That which was celebrated in the past must now be condemned.
  3. Those who once condemned that which is now celebrated must now be condemned as well.

That sums up what is happening in our culture today. Some have asked me "How did we end up like this." I point to Hobson's three-step analysis as to the journey of shift. Ultimately, those who condemn that which now is celebrated (in the case of Pride month, that would be the LGBTQ+ agenda) must now be condemned. Thus...cancel culture.

Christians and Churches Will Not Get a Pass

It has been said by many in recent years, most notably by Dr. Albert Mohler of The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary that an answer on where an individual or church stands on the topic of homosexuality and the full gamut of LGBTQ+ relationships will no longer be avoidable, couched in grey, or ignored. Mohler stated in a 2014 article responding to a now former Southern Baptist church in California that affirmed LGBTQ+ lifestyles by declaring a "third way" that this reality is upon us.

The issue is now inescapable for every congregation, every denomination, every seminary, and every Christian organization. The question will be asked and some answer will be given. When the question is asked, any answer that is not completely consistent with the church's historical understanding of sexual morality and the full affirmation of biblical authority will mean a full embrace of same-sex behaviors and same-sex relationships. There is no third way, and there never was. (albertmohler.com)

Dr. Mohler is not the only one speaking on this subject from a biblical worldview. He is one of the few who does so with strong, conservative, biblical convictions that are not married to a nationalistic or anger-based viewpoint. Despite how some respond to him, his words do not spew hate, but clarity and espouse the grace and love God offers.

Sex and Bad Christians

Perhaps one of the most frustrating and debilitating realities among evangelicals (especially Baptists) in America today when it comes to holding firm on the biblical teaching of sexuality is that while the Bible clearly (I know some dispute the clarity, but I still hold that the teachings are clear) speaks in both the Old and New Testaments of God's design for his image-bearers and the value and purpose of God-designed sex and sexual relations, there are far too many evangelicals with platforms who heinously live double-lives. Whether it is the real and often unacknowledged sexual abuse that has taken place in evangelical and Baptist churches for decades by pastors and leaders or the very public sexual and perverted failings of celebrity Christians, pastors, university presidents, and Christian camp employees the public call to live moral, biblically holy lives, especially in regards to sexual ethics fall on deaf ears. Messengers who declare a message they personally ignore removes any power in the message for many. In just a matter of decades pastors and Christian leaders have fallen from listings of most admired and respected to the opposite. In many cases it is rightly deserved

What a fun era to serve in pastoral leadership.

Nevertheless, the call to live holy lives remains. This is not a call to live on a pedestal, looking down on others, declaring their sin worse than ours.  Yet, it is a call to fulfill the Great Commission and Great Commandment. To love God dearly and love others as he does, to not be silent when it comes to the gospel, to not forget that apart from the grace of God and salvation through Jesus Christ, regardless of one's sexual bent, lostness is everyone's lot.

Over the past few years, I have received more emails and phone calls than I can count from others who with family members who have come out of the closet, who celebrate Pride Month as their favorite time of the year, who in some cases have abandoned the faith of their childhood. Why do I get these calls? It's pretty obvious. Our family is in the story as well.

Some ask how they can love their family member without affirming their lifestyle. Some seek information on what to do to change their child or loved one. Many are broken and grieving and wondering what they have done wrong.

Each story is unique. Each is different because people are different and circumstances are different. Yet, in all the individuality in our world, here is what I know. God loves our loved ones more than we do. The answer is not a change in sexual orientation or beliefs about sexual identity. To change one's sexual urges (if they even can) but to remain separated from God results in an eternity separated from God. Thus, the answer is only Jesus Christ. Behavior modification never leads to heart transformation. Lifestyle changes do not lead to salvation. Christ alone is the key. He changes everything.

So pray and believe.

Those of us living on the wrong side of history know that "love is love" is little more than a declaration of self. It is a prideful statement and up until a few years ago the concept of "pride" was considered to be sinful (as it is, just read Proverbs 16.)

Now pride is something to celebrate.

Interesting.

It seems that Hobson was right.

No Avoidance of a Stance

Churches and denominations have been wrestling with their stances on sexual morality for decades. It has created division among many. Sadly, it seems that the United Methodist Church is next to face schism as the only think united about the United Methodist Church as a whole is the name and the trademark. It is a sad reality, but it is coming and the divide will land on the church's understanding and definition of biblical morality as it relates to LGBTQ+ lifestyles.

As individual Christians, a decision will have to be made regarding this as well. Oh, most have already made their decision, but there will soon come a day when it will have to be shared publicly. And even if you're not scared of homosexuality (i.e. not homophobic) you will likely be categorized as such if you do not publicly affirm the new chapter in the moral revolution. Unless of course, you try to toe the line to remain "relevant."

This will likely get me canceled by many, but toeing the line in order to be relevant by ignoring what the Bible declares to be true, just so you can keep your job, have dinner with your in-laws, be considered cutting edge, or not have your social media accounts censored or deleted will result in you perhaps being on the "right side of history" but on the wrong side of God's truth.

As challenging as it is here in the United States for evangelicals regarding the moral revolution, it is more so in other nations where speaking biblically as it relates to sexuality is considered hate speech.

So, if you just keep getting angry at all the rainbow logos that corporations are pushing, just remember that for the most part that is little more than pandering for the sake of financial gain. Business...as they say...is business. I don't like it, but those postings are often little more than attempts to appear progressive while living behind meaningless hashtags. 

In some cases it is more (as with Blue's Clues and the Pride Parade sing-along) but that is why we must we wise as serpents and innocent as doves. 

What Is a Christian To Do?

It is so simple that it seems like it is not enough. Love God with your heart, soul, mind, and strength. Love him with every ounce of such. Love him so much in these ways that your own personal behaviors and actions change because of him and how you live your life reflects that great love. In other words, be holy.

Love others as yourself. Love straight people, gay people. lesbian people, bisexual people, non-binary people, transgender people, whatever falls under the + people...all people. But remember, love does not mean affirm. That may be our biggest challenge. Love with an agape love - an undeserved, grace-filled, self-sacrificing, selfless, unconditional, non-behavior motivated love. 

Love them enough to show them Jesus Christ (the true Jesus Christ, not the Christ coopted by those who make him a political player who looks more like a cowboy than a shepherd.)

And believe God is sovereign, not shaken and will do what only he can do - rescue the perishing. Just as he did with you.

Or do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: neither the sexually immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor men who practice homosexuality, nor thieves, nor the greedy, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God. And such were some of you. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God. (1 Corinthians 6:9-11 ESV)


High School Graduate Recognition in a Family Equipping Church

It is spring in an almost post-pandemic year and high school graduation in our county is tomorrow. We have received graduation notifications in the mail, invitations to family-hosted celebrations, and some neighbors have the now common-place signs in their yards stating that a graduate is in the house. Social media feeds are full of memory photos including many reenactments of those "first day of school" pics from kindergarten with the now adult-looking child holding a sign that says "last day of school." In our county, public graduation ceremonies are back on, without masks even. It is almost like it used to be prior to COVID-19.

Churches are having their annual high school graduate recognition time. For some churches this involves having the students march down to the stage in their respective caps and gowns. A brief introduction will be made to the congregation stating who the student is, from which local school he/she is a graduate, and sometimes future plans are shared as well. It is a nice stroll down memory lane for those in the church who actually know the students. 

What To Do For Graduates At Church?

Most often the church will acknowledge the achievement of graduating high school. Then a gift is given to the students. Many times the gift is a book that, to be honest, we know will never be read.  Many students will just pack the gift in the box with the rest of their "high school memories." There was a season when our church would give a compilation cassette tape or CD (FYI - cassette tapes were small plastic reels of magnetic tape containing recordings of music. CDs were round, reflective discs that could hold music, videos, and data. These were played in the dashboard audio systems of Oldsmobiles and Pontiacs or on the Gateway personal computer in the home - if said computer had a CD-ROM drive. For information on Oldsmobile, Pontiac, or Gateway, search the items on Google.) of Christian music to graduates. 

It is a special day for the students. It is likely more monumental and special for the parents of the students.

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Pastors and church leaders often struggle with what to do for high school graduates, especially with the understanding that the Lord's Day worship gathering is to be just that, a focus on the Lord. Holidays and special events (Mother's Day, Father's Day, Memorial Day Weekend, Independence Day, Arbor Day, etc.) often create great confusion, and anger groups of church members when what is expected on a particular Sunday morning is seemingly ignored or not prioritized. 

So, what do you do with high school graduates on the Lord's Day?

If you take the entire service honoring graduates is that not a problem for a church commanded to honor God alone?

If the focus is on the accomplishments of the seventeen and eighteen-year-olds in your fellowship, is that wrong?

If you totally ignore the fact that some in your fellowship have just graduated from high school is that ignoring the context of your culture?

What about those students who really never come to church, but their parents or grandparents do? So, on high school graduate recognition Sunday there is a teenager standing before the congregation who is not only not a part of the fellowship, but is unknown to most but those who are related to him? Does that graduate get the "free gift" too?

What about students who joined the church and attended worship, but never attended any student ministry activities, events, or trips? It is often the student pastor leading the recognition. It is awkward, but does that student count? Or...should that student count more because she was part of the church and not just part of the student ministry?

Over The Years, I Have Learned...

After thirty-plus years in full-time pastoral ministry here is what I have discovered and recommend regarding high school graduation and church:

  • If you recognize graduates on Sunday morning, some will love this. Others will be angry.
  • If you do not recognize graduates on Sunday morning, some will love this. Others will be angry.
  • I don't believe it is wrong to recognize high school graduates. You may disagree, but I'm writing this blog and that is my opinion.
  • Graduates are not excited about the gift the church gives them (for the most part.)
  • Just because most graduates may not read the gift book you give them does not mean you should stop giving books. Books last. Books are good. Good books are great. If you give them a book, don't waste money on a "Promises for the Graduate" book, but give them one that speaks of identity in Christ, life in Christ, proper doctrine, and truth. Self-help books (even Christianized ones) are not worth it. They may not read it...but they may and it is best to offer a timeless work than a pop-Christian-psychology-you-have-what-it-takes manual. Oh, and even if they have a Bible, a new Bible still a good gift. I actually still have the Bible my church gave me in 1986 when I stood in front of our congregation as a graduating senior. Thanks Davis Boulevard Baptist Church (now CrossMark Church.)
  • No graduate should be given the microphone and asked "What do you plan to do for the rest of your life now that you are an adult?" Don't do this to a student even if they have thirty honor ribbons and everyone knows they've been accepted to the most prestigious university around. Why? Because there are likely students standing next to them who are just really glad they have graduated high school and are unsure of their next steps. It is a recognition for all graduates, not just the valedictorian-level students. The school's awards ceremony is the place for acknowledging those academic accomplishments.
  • You will have students show up for graduate recognition that you cannot ever remember seeing before. So, if you have a gift for others...have one for them. This "who gets recognized" issue is no hill to die on.
  • Don't make participation in youth ministry activities and events the litmus test for being recognized on Sunday.
  • Regarding the sermon - preach the gospel. This should be understood, but Sunday's sermon should not sound like the secular "Believe in yourself" or "Follow your heart" drivel offered at many commencements. In fact, if you are preaching through a series, stay in the series. It is a clear reminder that while you are acknowledging the accomplishments of your now young adults, the church gathered is focusing on God's teaching from God's Word for the day (just as you do every Lord's Day.)
  • If you are recognizing graduates do so as a church, not as a student ministry. 
  • Consider a post-service or pre-service fellowship with graduates and their families. Or, do as we did for years, have a drop-in graduate recognition party for all your graduates. This will provide space and fellowship for all your graduates and that way when families are calling the church to reserve the fellowship hall for their graduate's party, you can say "We do this for all our graduates on ______ day. You're welcome to participate." It will keep church members from trying to hit every party in town and will provide a celebration for those students whose parents may not schedule such an event. And...for families who want their own...they will do it anyway.

The Big Shift for Graduates & Parents - The Family Blessing

Moving to a family equipping ministry as a church has been challenging, yet fulfilling. I have written about this philosophy of ministry prior. You can read about it here.

Since the church is helping parents, grandparents, and guardians of children and teenagers to be the point of the spear when it comes to discipleship, we believe it is imperative that our recognition of graduates moves beyond the traditional presentation of students and a gift from the church during a worship service.

The family blessing is a milestone that cannot be replaced by a church event. The words of a loving parent (or guardian) spoken publicly to a young man or woman will be remembered much longer than any words spoken by whomever was chosen to give a speech at the high school graduation. The blessing is biblical. It is intentional. It is public. It is spoken. It is right and holy.

And...for many parents, it is frightening.

It is most frightening for those who fear standing in front of or speaking in front of a crowd. We understand that. In those cases, we stand with the parents, we provide mentors, we even will read the blessing of the parents upon their child for them if needed.

We will see this play out on Sunday here at our church.

We have just a few graduating seniors this year, but they will be recognized. During the early part of our worship service, these students will be brought to the front of the congregation (wearing their respective graduation regalia.) They will be introduced to the congregation. Words of encouragement and challenge will be offered by the pastor or student pastor. Then, their parents (or guardians/mentors) will come stand with them. The microphone will be given to the parent and he/she will speak a blessing upon their now young adult child before the fellowship of believers.

This is a milestone.

Some may call it a rite of passage, but it is more than that. It is the loving parent's words of blessing upon a child who is stepping into a new chapter of life.

It will not be easy for all. Some parents may struggle with finding the words. In some cases, the wounds between parent and child make this even more difficult. Yet, even then, we believe there is power in the biblical blessing within the fellowship of the redeemed. Since we are intent on equipping parents, we help them with this. We make this step doable. We are equipping parents to bless their child even if they have never experienced this in their own lives.

And with this...an added on recognition to a worship service becomes a time of redemption, calling, blessing, challenge, and will shift from being solely about the graduate and more about God and all that he desires for the future of this person. 

To God be the glory, may we do this well.

And...congratulations graduates!


Our Church Turns One-Hundred Years Old

First Baptist Church of Orange Park (where I have the honor of serving as pastor) was founded on May 1, 1921. The church was initially started after Mrs. Carrie Clarke began leading a children's Bible study on her front porch (that house is located across the street from our church facility in the Town of Orange Park's "Clarke House Park.") We have had a few buildings in our history and actually were located in the older part of town for decades until land was purchased and the church was relocated "on the other side of the tracks." This was a strategic and significant move.

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The first paid pastor of our church was a student at Stetson University in DeLand, Florida. Today it takes about an hour and a half to get from DeLand to Orange Park. Back then there were no interstates or highway systems as we have now, not to mention the many bridges over the rivers. The pastor would drive up on weekends to preach at First Baptist two Sundays each month and would drive to First Baptist Church of Jacksonville Beach for the other two Sundays. 

We have had a rich history here at First Baptist Church. Numerous men have served as pastor. I was informed about a year ago that I was the longest tenured pastor First Baptist has ever had. That just didn't seem right. Surely I hadn't been in the lead pastor role that long. I did some research and discovered it is true. I have served as senior pastor since August 2005. Prior to that, I served from 1994-2005 as Student Pastor and Single Adult Pastor. 

I know we have some great men who have served as pastor here at First Baptist. I had the honor of knowing Pastor Carroll Kendrick. He served here about forty years ago. He may have been one of the smartest men I have ever met. He was always very kind, gracious, and encouraging to me.

When the church called me to serve on staff, Dr. Allen Harrod was serving as pastor. He served for over fourteen years (making him the second-longest tenured pastor.) For me, coming right out of seminary, moving to this great unknown area of ministry in a state I had never even visited was a bit daunting. Yet, Dr. Harrod and his wife Joyce were so welcoming to my wife Tracy and me. We knew this was where God had called us. As the years go by, I am more and more thankful for the faithfulness of Dr. Harrod. Under his leadership our church healed from some very challenging times. We also made the very needed steps to affirm the inerrancy of God's Word in our teaching and preaching. The greatest systematic growth of FBCOP occurred under Dr. Harrod's leadership as he led us to build our current worship center, music suite, educational wing, gymnasium, and office complex. Integrity is always needed in the position of pastor and Dr. Harrod proved to be a consistent man of integrity, always seeking to lead the church as he felt God was leading him, in accordance to God's Word.

As I read through more of our church's history, there are some exciting and amazing moments that show how God was blessing and using FBCOP for his glory. Men and women surrendered to ministry and were sent out from our church to the field. Some served in pastoral roles. Others as missionaries. A number of churches were launched and new church plants supported over the years. There are many victories in our story where God alone gets the glory and credit.

Sadly, there are also stories where some in leadership positions abandoned God's lead and actually caused great harm to the cause of Christ and to his children. While these instances occurred many decades in the past and long before I ever visited Florida or was even out of high school, the facts are these very dark chapters exist. We know many were hurt and for that we are so very sorry. In fact, on occasion I encounter some who are actually facing PTSD in their own lives due to trauma from the past that came from our church. I have sought to minister to these now adults and express my very real and great concern and love for them. In many cases, it is clear that God has healed them (though the scars remain) and in others, the healing is still needed. While those moments of sinful disgust and mistreatment (BTW - the violators have been dealt with through legal processes) are certainly part of our story (and cannot be ignored) they thankfully do not define the work of God in Orange Park through First Baptist Church at large. The enemy would love for FBC to have folded in those days, but for the grace of God and those seeking to follow his lead, we remain.

This is not a moment to congratulate ourselves for surviving to our one-hundredth anniversary, but a time to thank God for his goodness, his grace, his mercy, and for having his hand upon us all these years. 

I am very thankful to be serving the people of First Baptist as God's servant. I know I will not be the last pastor this great church has, but for this moment he has seen fit to allow me this role. So, as we look back over our one-hundred year history, I cannot help but be thankful while simultaneously asking God "What's next?"

The days ahead are exciting. I pray that we continue to look up and look ahead to glorify God well as First Baptist Church of Orange Park and prepare the way for the next generation and the ones to come after that.


Cancer, Christians, and What the Church Can Do

In our local church we have had what seems to be our fair share (if not an overabundance) of members who have been diagnosed with cancer over the years. The "prayer list" seems to always have names of men, women, and even boys and girls at times, who have been diagnosed with the dreaded "C" word.

Even though I have not personally been diagnosed with the disease, I have had family members placed under that cloud. I imagine everyone reading this knows someone who has had, or currently is, fighting cancer. 

As I write this, there are four women in our church who are front and center in my mind as they are on their own journeys of treatment for their cancer. Their loved ones have sought prayer. Their children are worried. They are super strong women, but even their strength is sometimes tested to the breaking point as they work through their chemotherapy and other treatments. 

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Photo by Olga Kononenko on Unsplash

The men in our church have faced their share of cancers as well. Each story is unique and yet as they go through their own personal journeys, a fraternity of sorts develops of those who have been down the road before. 

Thankfully, we are in an age where many cancers are treatable. Many have great success with recovery. One of our dear sisters shared with me last week that for the first time in many years, she has been declared "cancer free" as the doctor said her cancer is in a state of dormancy. This is nothing less than miraculous as even the doctors did not expect this in her journey. She was smiling from ear to ear giving God praise for the day, and every day to come. Certainly the disease and treatments over the years have taken their toll on her body, but her spirit is strong and I was reminded of God's goodness and grace at that moment. 

Not everyone gets such a report, but God remains faithful. 

While that may not sound encouraging, it truly is. 

The Fear That Follows the Shock

The initial shock of being diagnosed with cancer must seem overwhelming. I imagine that following the shock, there is often a wave of fear tinged with anger that hits. At least that is what I have been told. In a church culture that often reminds believers that they should not fear but have faith, even the strongest of Christians wonders how that is possible when the diagnosis is given.

Leslie Schmucker, a cancer survivor and believer, wrote a guest column about her journey with cancer for Desiring God. In her article (full article here), she states...

Just because we feel some measure of fear does not mean we have no faith; it just means that our faith isn’t perfect yet. Our temporal flesh is broken and weak, and God knows that. That’s why he “gave us a spirit not of fear but of power and love and self-control” (2 Timothy 1:7). As we look to God in faith, his Spirit gives us strength to act from an eternal perspective and to resist cowering in our temporal frailty.

These are good words for those fearing the road ahead and then fearing that that fear is nothing more than lack of faith and therefore, sin. Fear and faith are not necessarily polar opposites. Fear leads to the opportunities to faithfully receive strength that cannot be mustered within oneself.

Don't Waste This Moment

Desiring God is the ministry of John Piper. Piper's transparency through his own battle with cancer has helped him minister well to other believers going through their own cancer journey. Of his most poignant writings on the subject is titled "Ten Ways Not To Waste Your Cancer." If this were written by someone like me who has never faced cancer first-hand, it would sound idealistic and even offensive, but coming from one who was diagnosed and faced the very daunting reality of cancer, it gives clarity. It is truthful and hopeful.

I'll just list the ten points here, but encourage you to click here for the full article by Piper with insight from David Powlison (who also faced his own cancer.) 

  1. You will waste your cancer if you do not believe God designed it for you.
  2. You will waste your cancer if you believe it is a curse and not a gift.
  3. You will waste your cancer if you seek comfort from your odds rather than from God.
  4. You will waste your cancer if you refuse to think about death.
  5. You will waste your cancer if you think that "beating" cancer means staying alive rather than cherishing Christ.
  6. You will waste your cancer if you spend too much time reading about cancer and not enough time reading about God.
  7. You will waste your cancer if you let it drive you into solitude instead of deepen your relationships with manifest affection.
  8. You will waste your cancer if you grieve as those who have no hope.
  9. You will waste your cancer if you treat sin as casually as before.
  10. You will waste your cancer if you fail to use it as a means to the truth and glory of Christ.

Piper's pamphlet, as well as audio recordings, of Don't Waste Your Cancer are available on Amazon here.

If you find Piper's insight encouraging, or just challenging, take the time to listen to him here as he speaks of the truths he faced when the diagnosis was given:

What's a Church To Do?

When the church is viewed as little more than a club for the community to join so that good deeds may be done in the neighborhood, the concept of "church family" will never be experienced. If that is the case, then when crises or challenges such as cancer hit, the one battling the disease will not view their church as a place of respite, hope, and strength.

Since a church family is comprised of the redeemed, we are much more than a team. We are more than a club. We are more than a community group. We are family. In fact, as the redeemed, we are closer than blood relatives. We are united in the Spirit as one. We will hurt when one family member hurts. We will grieve when even one grieves. We will celebrate as one when victory is experienced.

Sadly, many never truly see their church family this way and some never will have such an experience of oneness. Perhaps this is due to the heightened individuality partnered with the desire not to go too deep with others that many of us have? Maybe it is just our sin nature at work? Whatever it is, much is lost to the individual Christian when there is no faith family to come alongside in times of trouble.

There is the tendency in many churches to share all the needs, issues, and illnesses with others as part of the "fill out the prayer list" time in groups, but to do little with the list once it is created. FYI - just because it is called a "prayer list" does not mean people are actually praying. That is not a shot. It's a confession.

We have our commission. There is no denying that we must make disciples as we go. We know we are to be on mission here, there, and throughout the world. We must. We also understand the very real calling to evangelize those who are far from God. These are not debatable. These are commands. When it comes to the greatest commandment, there is no argument that loving God is essential and that loving people is commanded. Yet, we may at times be guilty of loving those we have yet to meet more than those in our own church family.

To face outward only as a church may be called evangelistic and mission-minded by some, but leaves care for those within the fellowship undone.

To face inward only as a church may be called discipleship by some, but leaves the command to go ignored.

Therefore, when a brother or sister in our family is diagnosed with this horrendous "C" word, the church must respond. Maybe it will be the creation of a "Meal-train" online or a "GoFundMe" account to help cover financial hardships. Serving our loved ones in very practical ways are helpful - whether it be mowing their lawn, taking care of their kids, sending ready-to-eat meals to the home, or any other very such thing. And...if you say "Call me if you need anything" just realize they likely will not call. So, seek to find the need and fill it without waiting for the call. There are very real and tangible things that can and should be done. They are good and right to do.

However, the coming together as loving family members to pray must be paramount. Prayer is not our last resort. It must be our first response. Our intercession for the health of our loved ones is key.

We Must Pray

Pray for healing? Certainly.

What if healing does not come? Don't stop praying.

Our prayers will lead us to a healthy and strong understanding of the sovereignty of God. The God who loves deeply, is never wrong, heals fully, and provides completely desires the prayer of his children on behalf of his other children.

The humbling aspect of prayer is not only what our brothers and sisters facing cancer need, but what we all need. Every Christian in the family of God–every member in the local body–should know what the carpet in their room smells like due to being on their faces in prayer before the Lord.

Cancer has hit in the past.

Cancer has just been revealed in someone's present.

Cancer will be diagnosed in the present.

Treatments will be coordinated and handed out and those seeing to the treatments and applications of such should be lauded, appreciated, and prayed over. 

Those who are walking the cancer journey must be loved deeply by their church family. They must know this.

They need to be more than a name on a "prayer list." Love them well. Serve them honorably. Walk with them along the journey. And, get to know the smell of your carpet as you intercede for them. I will be.


"Gospel-Driven Ministry" by Jared C. Wilson - Book Review

There are a few authors who are on my "buy the book as soon as it is available" list. Jared C. Wilson is one such author. His books focusing on the gospel and specifically on church and ministry leadership are golden. Most recently, he has released a book titled Gospel-Driven Ministry: An Introduction to the Calling and Work of a Pastor. At first, I thought this may be a restructured or rereleased version of his book The Gospel-Driven Church. It is not. This book is focused more on the qualifications of the pastorate and the focus on gospel-centrality in ministry. (BTW - The Gospel-Driven Church is a must read as well.)

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I mentioned recently to some peers that Wilson's latest book is one I wish I had been able to read decades prior. The insight into the joys and challenges of pastoral ministry is so valuable. However, to be honest, even if this book was available a few decades prior, and even if I had been given it by a trusted pastor, and even if I had read it...I likely would not have been able to digest the depths of truth offered in needed and beneficial ways. The arrogance of my youth would have left me with a book full of highlighted phrases and healthy insight, but most likely not as impactful in my life and ministry as needed.

Nevertheless, I now have a stack of these books in my office. I have the honor of working with many church planters and new pastors in my city. Often over coffee or when meeting with one of these young men I give them a copy of Jared's book along with instructions to read, highlight, and think deeply on the insight offered. I am believing these men are more mature in their walk and less arrogant than I was at their age. I also have come to grips with the reality that I have shifted into the role of "older pastor" whom others believe may have some wisdom to offer. I may not have wisdom...but I do have a listening ear...and a free book by Jared C. Wilson.

What I love about Jared's writing is his clarity and boldness in declaring truth while also inviting the reader into his own stories of victory, pain, and pastoral calling. Jared writes about authentic situations and not just about ideal circumstances. He has a way of explaining the very true, challenging, fulfilling, and at times painful realities of serving as a pastor of a church while also seeking to be a godly husband, father, and friend. He reminds the pastor reading that church life is messy at times, but so very worth it as God is glorified when the gospel is central. I find myself reading through the book and pausing to say "Yep, that's true." It may not be new news, but it is comforting to know that the issues I face are not special, but are similar to what all pastors face (though certainly the context and circumstances may be unique.)

This book is a good read for all Christians, but a must-read for pastors and ministry leaders. The practical insight offered through easily understood story-telling, with real-life illustrations and stories remind the pastor/shepherd that ministry faithfulness is less on doing everything, but trusting that Christ has already done everything.

Being driven by and centered on the gospel is freeing and Wilson's writing is a breath of fresh air in an age of church-centered stress.

Here are just a sampling of quotes that I highlighted as I read Gospel-Driven Ministry. They're "tweetable" but ultimately are worth more than likes on a social media post. The wise will take these to heart:

  • "A call to pastoral ministry is the inclination to conform one's desires and direction to the aspiration of shepherding a church. it must not simply be a desire to preach." (p. 17)
  • "The pastorate is not a right or an entitlement. The pastorate is a sacred stewardship reserved only for the qualified, called, and commissioned men." (p. 24)
  • "If we do not preach Christ from the text, we are not preaching a Christian sermon." (p. 37)
  • "Ask yourself this: Could this sermon be preached in a synagogue? A Mormon temple? A Jehovah's Witness kingdom hall? Each of these religions affirms the moral uplift of the Scriptures. Each of them uses the Bible to make inspirational, spiritual points about doing god to others and honoring God. But the one thing that we have that they do not is the gospel. It is the gospel that chiefly distinguishes Christian preaching from unchristian preaching." (p. 65)
  • "Do not preach an illustration in search of a text." (p. 95)
  • "The heart of ministry is a heart that doesn't see people as the interruption to your ministry, but sees the interruptions as the ministry." (p. 121)
  • "Worse than an unfeeling, uncaring pastor is a sullen, whiny, sad-sack pastor." (p. 145)
  • "Be transparent. Be honest. Don't just share the what; explain the why." (p. 160)
  • "It may sound noble and godly to keep convenience store hours, but it's a fast track to physical exhaustion and gradual resentment of the flock." (p. 201)
  • "I used to think pastoral ministry was about helping people live. Then, I learned it was actually about helping people die." (p. 217)
  • "You are not ready to shepherd until you have been spiritual discombobulated by the gospel and essentially reconstituted by the gospel." (p. 226)
  • "Christian ministry is the overflow of the mystery of God in Christ coming to bear on your soul and, through yours, on the souls of others." (p. 227)

Certainly, it is clear by now. I highly recommend this book. Buy it. Read it. Highlight it. Thank God for the insight. Then, give a copy to another pastor or ministry leader. They will thank you for it.

And...in case you, like me, are now one of the "seasoned pastors" in your community. Read the book. Put it on your shelf. Then, in about a year, take it off the shelf and reread it. You will thank Jared for this.


Teenagers Need More Than the Coolest Youth Group In Town

A few weeks ago I was asked to lead one of our local junior high school's Fellowship of Christian Athletes (FCA) huddle. 

What I love about these young people is that once they determined that being an athlete on a school-sponsored team was not required for attending the huddle, they began inviting fellow students and have played around with an alternate name for the club. While still officially a Fellowship of Christian Athletes huddle (and approved by FCA as an official group) these students will say that the "A" can mean athlete, academician, artist, or just anybody. To be honest, I like the name "Fellowship of Christian Anybodies."

I asked them to list some of the issues their fellow students were facing. We focused on the "other students at school" in that it is often easier for the students to share their own struggles when it is seemingly focused on what others may be facing. Believe me, everyone in the room knew exactly what we were talking about.

Every generation of teenagers has had their issues, their struggles, and their challenges. Just being a twelve to fourteen-year-old in a public school brings overwhelming challenges. Yet, this group shared things that were on such lists years prior.

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As the students began to share, the list grew longer and sadder. Here are just a few of the items I wrote upon the whiteboard as they shared.

  • Pressure to vape
  • Pressure to drink and do drugs
  • Pressure to have a "significant other"
  • Family issues
  • Struggles with being adopted
  • Parents divorcing
  • Bullying
  • Grades
  • Pressure from parents (to play sports, be in band, be on a travel team, keep good grades, get into the college of choice, get a boyfriend/girlfriend, etc.)
  • Gender confusion and identity (LGBTQ+)
  • Sexual pressure
  • Etc.

Many of these items have been issues for decades, but some are moving up the list to be more prominent now. Others, like vaping, were not issues in years past because they did not exist. The stress of performance partnered with parental pressure and peer bullying is huge, and not only in-person, but also, if not more so, online and through social media platforms and oft-used apps by students.

I then asked the students what the answer was to all these issues and in typical fashion, from students who state they are Christians, "Jesus" was the answer given.

He is. He always has been.

Then I asked, "But do Christian students–those who have surrendered to Christ as Savior and have been transformed by the Holy Spirit–deal with these issues, too?"

Their eyes opened wider and it was an "a-ha" moment for many of them. They knew the answer was Jesus because in Sunday School, at youth group, at camp, and in most every evangelical youth gathering in our churches today they are taught he is. It is not that the answer is more than Jesus. It is not, but the realization that even being a Christian does not make them immune to such pressures seemed like a revelation to them. 

The bell rang. We prayed. They then went to begin their school day.

More Than Lock-Ins and Pizza Parties

As I was driving to the office following this meeting, I began to think about the youth ministry God blessed me to lead for many years here at our church. We filled the room weekly for our Wednesday worship. We would load the buses for trips to the beach, the theme parks, youth camps, and special concerts and events. We held DiscipleNow Weekends in homes where over one-hundred students paid to go "deep" in Bible study with guest leaders over a weekend. We held lock-ins (the absolute worst event ever devised for youth groups–designed to eradicate all sane adult volunteers in student ministry, IMHO) and concerts, game nights, competitions, movie nights, work days, matching T-shirts mission trips, and every other thing created by youth pastors in what I see now as the "golden age of big group youth ministry."

I planned these events. I enjoyed them. We saw thousands of teenagers over the years attend and many make life-changing, eternal decisions for Christ. 

These were good days.

But...there was always something missing. I could not put my finger on it at the time, but I knew we were just a degree or two off in our mission and our focus.

Perhaps it was the trickle-down effect of the church growth movement?

Perhaps it was the pressure to create the best youth experience in the city?

Perhaps it was always feeling the need to out-do the church down the street, or even worse, the youth event we held the previous month?

Hindsight is 20/20

I know young adults (and not as young as they think adults) now whom I was blessed to serve as youth pastor, who are walking with the Lord. They are serving him and his church. They are leading their own children well. Some are even serving in full-time ministry. There are many whom are considered co-laborers for the sake of the gospel.

Yet, there are many others who walked out of the church building after receiving the free book (they never read) and the "ConGRADulations" CD of Christian music when we recognized them as high school graduates. They seemingly left the version of faith they claimed to be true, impactful, life-changing, and important, back in the youth room, or in that dusty box of high school memories in their parents' attic.

I heard the very real issues and concerns shared by the group of teenagers I had the honor of meeting with last week. I think about the immensity of what they face. In many cases, their parents or guardians are feeling similar pressures. I know this is true because of the emails, texts, and direct messages I receive almost weekly from parents or guardians hoping I can give them practical, step-by-step answers for some of the most grueling issues their teenagers are facing. 

The answer is still Jesus. He always will be, but as these parents are recognizing, the very real and important need for growing as a disciple is not something that can be outsourced to a youth minister or a Sunday school teacher.

When I served as a youth pastor, I was satisfied living in my silo of youth ministry. I talked with and resourced parents as best I could, but ultimately, I was engaged with reaching teenagers. I would say that my intent was to reach them for Christ (and it was) but sometimes, it seems I was focused on reaching them for my youth ministry. Ultimately, we had hundreds of teenagers who joined a youth group, but never joined the church or God's family. Lost teenagers wearing Christian t-shirts was common.

This is changing as our church has moved to a model of student ministry (as well as preschool and children's) called Family Equipping (read more here.) The focus is less on the young person and more on equipping parents and guardians to be lead disciple-makers in their homes. Those who understand the value are praising this shift.

Others who simply long for their teenagers to be part of a large youth group so they can make great memories and do all the things their parents did a couple of decades earlier do not like this. Some have left our church. They have found other churches who provide the very same type of ministry that was so prevalent in the golden age. These are not bad churches. They are wonderful and God is using those ministries for his glory. It is just that they are functioning under a different model. I pray for them and their impact for the kingdom.

Since hindsight is 20/20, I now know that when our church functioned under such a model, we did a disservice to families and students. We settled for good, when God was calling us to better.

The bottom line is that teenagers who are struggling with their sexuality, their gender identity, the pressures to perform, the temptations to vape and other things, the stresses of family breakdowns, and the host of other things that end up on a whiteboard at a junior high school do not simply need the world's greatest pizza party, a sub-par event with dumbed-down inspirational "talks," matching t-shirts, or just someone to sit by in the church service.

They certainly need Jesus, but they also need a roadmap for next steps in their journey of life. Not only that, they need a guide to help them take those steps. Ideally, those guides are their parents. In some cases, they must be another (such as Paul became for Timothy.) 

It is essential that we equip believers well, for this generation and the ones to come.

May we never be guilty of outsourcing discipleship that is commissioned to us.

Oh, and by the way, I am not opposed to pizza parties, youth camps, mission trips, and DiscipleNow Weekends. I think these are all valid, good, and helpful. As for lock-ins though...they are of the devil, so no love for them.


What In The World Is Going On In The SBC?

Our denomination is unique from other groups that fall under that designation. In fact, Southern Baptists are not actually a denomination by the full definition of the term. This is due to the autonomy of Baptist churches and the organization our cooperative network of churches that includes an annual convention, state conventions, and associations. This is much different from mainline denominations with boards, presbyteries, bishops, and hierarchical organizations. Click here for a bit more detail on the organizational structure of the SBC.

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While Southern Baptists have long been known as people of the Word, mostly conservative in theology, and focused on missions and evangelism and creators of the wonderful concept known as the Cooperative Program, it remains true that there are chapters in our collective history that are not ones we like to revisit. This is not unlike our own local church, and every church older than a decade within our convention. In fact, even the founding of the SBC was not a high point of our work, being that it was ultimately due to the desire to send missionaries who were slave-holders to the field, excusing the sin of slavery. Yet, God has redeemed that and Southern Baptists have since repented for such actions (though continual and ongoing work on loving our brothers and sisters well is needed.) I won't rehash the history here, but it is worth reading. I recommend the books Removing the Stain of Racism from the Southern Baptist Convention by Dr. Jarvis Williams and Dr. Kevin Jones and The SBC and the 21st Century by Dr. Jason Allen, President of Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary.

It was back in the late 1970s and early 1980s that a concerted effort to turn the tide of liberal theology was put in place within our denomination. This has been called "The Conservative Resurgence" by those who prevailed. I am thankful for this movement to affirm the inerrancy of Scripture and the effective shift of repositioning our seminaries toward biblical fidelity.

Over the years, some in our SBC family have become frustrated at "the way things are going." This is true for all organizations, so we are not immune. There are blogs and sites set up that hash out all these issues. Some have legitimate concerns. Others, it seems, are sadly positioned to continually stir the pot.

Recently I received an email from one of our church members with honest, concerned questions about our SBC. Based on reports of creeping liberalism, racial division, doctrinal issues, and more, he was asking some specifics and wanting to know what was happening and if we are about to disband or become defunct.

I answered his questions as honestly, clearly, and specifically as I could. I certainly am concerned about the future of our convention, but I do not believe we are headed to a place of heresy under current leadership as claimed by some. However, I do believe we are at a place now defined by disunity and anger.

Perhaps this is nothing more than a great distraction?

Some state it is a moment of reckoning. They are focused on calling out brothers and sisters in Christ (claiming it is in love, but sadly not showing such.) Some have created a sub-network within our convention as a movement of reform or correction. I will not be leading our church to join group for I do not believe it to be necessary, needed, or helpful.

We now find ourselves in a place (well, it is similar to a place previous Baptist leaders and church members have been in the past - just change the issues and names) where if you claim to be friends...or worse yet, aligned with Pastor A, you cannot be friends with Pastor B. 

It's ridiculous. 

I actually have friends within our denominational family who would be considered to be in different camps (or networks.) No, I don't agree with all of them and they likely do not agree with me on all things, but I do know this...each desires to see the lost come to Christ, the church to be faithful, and God to be glorified. You know what? That could be unifying, if we would let it.

There are stories that seemingly come out weekly regarding the latest problems with Southern Baptists. Some are verifiable. Others are as accurate as the latest shopping center tabloids (do they still print those?) Yes...it is a mess. Certainly, we have issues. Absolutely, biblical fidelity and conservative, faithful, doctrine matters. Our statement of faith, the Baptist Faith & Message (2000) is good. We affirm it. It is not inerrant as only Scripture is, but it reveals what we as Southern Baptists (or Great Commission Baptists) hold to be true from Scripture.

So, my answer to my brother and member of my church is...

"We have not abandoned our doctrinal beliefs. We hold to the inerrancy and sufficiency of Scripture. We believe the Great Commission...though we are not seemingly making disciples as we should. We believe the Great Commandment...though we are apparently not loving others very well. I believe repentance is needed. I believe unity is the desire, but not unity for unity's sake. We must be unified in the calling to proclaim the gospel clearly, to live holy, to be the ambassadors for Christ he has called us to be. Unity in other items simply leads us off-course and keeps us off-course."

With all the confusion, frustration, name-calling, positioning, sub-networking, etc. that has recently occurred, knowing that a growing tidal wave about to hit the beach (apparently, our beach is in Nashville and the wave is scheduled to hit in June at our annual meeting) I am so thankful for my brother-in-Christ and our SBC President, Pastor J.D. Greear and the message he brought this week to the SBC Executive Committee. Not every Southern Baptist approves of the work J.D. Greear has done as our president. I do approve and I believe he has been placed in this unique position for such a time as this. Rather than simply reinterpret what God led Greear to preach, I encourage you to take the time to watch his message yourself. The link is below. (The video below is Greear's message edited from the full plenary session found at the SBC website. The full plenary session is almost three hours long and the original video is found here. I only edited to pull Greear's message from this for quicker viewing.)

Friends, our convention is not perfect. Yet, I believe we have been blessed beyond what we deserve. God has redeemed us for a greater story. Be encouraged. If we can avoid the distractions that pull us from our calling, we will be known as Great Commission Baptists not because we chose a new alternate title for our denomination, but because we are focused, united, together for the sake of the gospel. 

Better days lie ahead. Let's press on.


The Ravi Zacharias Scandal & the Danger of Creating Celebrity Christians

I will often get questions from church members, even those on staff, regarding the feasibility of using a curriculum item or teaching series by certain teachers. This has seemingly multiplied as more and more pastors and teachers have shifted from the "Good to listen to" list to the "We won't use that material." In some cases it is due to doctrinal errors. Yet, some are due to overt, revealed, moral failure.

The most recent, and perhaps the most frustrating among evangelical leaders, has been the revealed sinful actions of Ravi Zacharias. For years, Zacharias had been celebrated as an accomplished apologist in the church. His gatherings at public universities where he would debate atheists and take questions from students have been viewed by millions. His soft-spoken demeanor and intelligent way of engaging in these venues with what appeared to be true care and love was unique. I enjoyed his teachings and viewed numerous clips such as these. I have also read his writings and books.

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Photo credit: lausannemovement on VisualHunt.com / CC BY-NC-SA

A couple of years ago I had a meeting with the general manager of a local Christian radio station. This station has faithfully presented great preaching and teaching over the airwaves in our community for decades. We had hosted a fiftieth anniversary celebration for them a few years back and we were discussing another community gathering sponsored by the station. One of the potential speakers they were talking with was Ravi Zacharias. At this point, I mentioned that there were some stories circulating about Ravi and they may wish to look into those before booking. The stories were floating around on the internet and being shared on social media, but by and large, they were not known (or were being ignored) by most Christians.

The stories were concerning, but they had been refuted by Ravi and most people just believed the man whom they saw as a purveyor of truth and therefore viewed the accusers as just seeking money or notoriety. 

Grieving the Death of Ravi

Ravi Zacharias had been ill for a while and in May 2020 he died. There were many who mourned his death and postings asking for prayer for his family members were flooding the internet. This was a time of grief and I, as well as many others, were sad that he had died, was praying for his family, and wondering what the next phase of his ministry (RZIM) would be.

Grieving More Deeply at What Has Been Revealed

It has been almost a full year and more and more stories of Ravi have come to the surface. The ministry had called in an independent investigating team to see what these stories held. The truth of the one who built a ministry declaring the truth has become known.

Years of sexual sin has been admitted by the ministry after reviewing the evidence. There are many stories now covering the issues. Here are some...

His ministry (RZIM) posted a well-written and clear open letter. Click here to read.

The Crushing of Idols

Ravi was gifted a platform and he used that well, when it comes to his teaching. Yet, it seems he also used that well when it came to victimizing others. Ravi Zacharias was a celebrity evangelist. He was...dare I say "idolized" by many. This truth even comes out in some of the stories revealing that dark side. Idolatry is a terrible, abhorrent thing.

I have heard many sermons on the sin of having idols.

I have not heard many on the dangers of becoming an idol.

In this case, the celebrity (even posthumously) has fallen. The idol that many held has been crushed. Even more tragic are the responses I read and hear from Christian brothers and sisters. 

"There but for the grace of God, go I"

Well-meaning Christians brothers and sisters respond to the stories as they continue to be revealed, but often the responses are little more than salt in the wounds of the victims. Clearly, in this age of #MeToo and #ChurchToo and even #SBCToo, there are women (and men) who have been victimized sexually by those in authority (in religious authority) and to read and hear the tepid responses by so many causes some to relive their own pains of abuse.

Certainly, we are all susceptible to the sins of the flesh, but that does not minimize, must not cover up or sugar-coat, the years of intentional, strategic, well-thought out sexual abuse at that hands of this man. There are victims. That means Ravi was the victimizer.

"It's their words against his"

I read this in a comment online. In this case, it is much more than that. RZIM has confessed the accusations are true. They have stated after the investigation that they believe these accusations. Here, in the ministry leaders own open letter it states, "We believe not only the women who made their allegations public but also additional women who had not previously made public allegations against Ravi but whose identities and stories were uncovered during the investigation."

"It's not fair to accuse him after his death"

It is fair. Why? Because the ramifications of his acts remain. Victims are still alive.

"Even David sinned sexually and remained king"

Ravi Zacharias is not King David. The stories are both tragic. They are both evidence of the power of sexual sin and lustful desire, but it is not right, nor helpful to just lean into David every time we see a leader fall. David is not to be our model. Christ alone is.

"I just won't believe it"

This is the kicker. This comment was posted on the Baptist Press's Facebook page under their article on the subject. Responses to this person's comment were strong, and mostly in love. The "I just WON'T believe it" was emphasized. This is a statement of willfully ignoring the facts of sinful (and in this case criminal) acts simply because you do not wish the story to be true.

Perhaps this is the logical result of evangelicals declaring "Fake News" to everything in the mainstream media that is offensive, perceived to be skewed, and certainly written from a non-biblical worldview. Yet, just because a story says the opposite of what we wish does not make it false. 

"I just WON'T believe it" is akin to "I choose my own truth" and that, my friends, is not what Scripture teaches.

How Many More?

Ravi's failure has become just another in a long list of previously respected Bible teachers and leaders we will no longer affirm in our church.

It is disheartening at a minimum when reading of Ravi and others. It is also a clarion call to the church to ensure that we never elevate a man or woman whom we really, really like into a position that is reserved for Christ alone. 

Sadly, there remain many who are guilty of similar sexual abuse acts within the church. In most cases, they are not celebrity pastors. They are not heads of international ministries. They are not well-known outside a small community. They have abused and continue to do so. In some cases, they just shift to another small church where they begin again, leaving victims in their wake who wonder where God was, where he is, and why the church puts up with and seemingly excuses such.

In my denomination (Southern Baptist Convention) there has been a call for a database churches could access to discover such stories. Under the banner of autonomy, that has yet to be set up. Since I am simply a pastor of a local church, I am likely unaware of all the legal ramifications and issues that may make something like this untenable. Yet, I also pastor a church that has a tragic story in our history. In our case, the abuser was hired after doing the same at a previous church. I think it's time we figure out how to make such a clearinghouse work. Otherwise, we will have more Ravi stories, but sadly...more will remain unveiled and the hurt will continue.

"I just don't want to believe it...but it is true. God help us."


What Burdens You?

Last year a book titled Younique: Designing the Life that God Dreamed for You by Will Mancini, Dave Rhodes, and Cory Hartman was published. Mancini and his team are well-known among pastors and church leaders for their practical, easy to comprehend, and contextual works on church leadership, vision development, and contextual engagement. Books such as Church Unique and the recently published Future Church have proven and are proving to be very helpful to many pastors and ministry leaders.

Younique is a book focusing not on the organization or organism known as the local church, but on the individual Christ-follower seeking to live obediently and abundantly (that's how Christ defined our lives as Christians.) I do recommend the book as a whole, but in this post, I want to address one element that Mancini and team reveal.

The Passion Funnel

There is much presented in the book about personal giftedness, interests, and calling. I won't get into the details of each as Mancini's group - Future Church Company is available for consultations and will gladly provide such training for churches and leadership teams. 

Life funnelHowever, in reading about and working through a cohort with other leaders on this subject, the concept of the Passion Funnel continues to resonate with me. To best understand, picture a funnel (duh...thus, the name.) At the top, think of FIVE THINGS THAT INTEREST YOU. These are things that you enjoy doing. At first, you may try to overly spiritualize these things, but think more broadly (and yes, I know ultimately, everything is spiritual, but work with me here.)

You have your five interests. They could be things like: fishing, reading, watching sports, playing board games, collecting coins, etc. These are your hobbies, the things you enjoy doing in your free time.

Now, slide down the funnel a bit to the next level.

Think of THREE OR FOUR THINGS THAT EXCITE YOU. These would be things that give you energy. These are things you look forward to doing. 

The next level down are the TWO OR THREE THINGS THAT DRIVE YOU. What are the things you must do? These are those things that get you up in the morning. They energize you. They make the day seem shorter and feel productive.

Now, for the bottom of the funnel. This is the ONE THING THAT BURDENS YOU. This is not what gets you up in the morning, but what keeps you up at night. This is not something that creates unholy worry or anxiety, but that which God has placed within your unique design that others just may not have. Even other brothers and sisters in Christ may not resonate with that which burdens you. It often is a challenge or a quest. This burden is your holy discontent. It is the calling that reveals God's love for you, your love for him and others, and your answer to why you were born when you were, where you were, and why you have been placed by God where you are now.

This is the burden that keeps us from just existing and waiting out our days on this earth. It motivates us to live full and abundantly as Christians for God's glory and the impact for his Kingdom.

What burdens you? 

For me, the overwhelming lostness in our community and throughout the world keeps me up at night. This is expressed in my great concern for the families who are struggling, for the marriages that are failing, for the children who are questioning truth. 

Thankfully, God is not relying on me. I am relying on him. He has created us in his image for his glory and has called, commissioned, and placed us where we are.

As our church's leadership team discussed our unique individual designs this past week we realized (or more likely remembered) that God has not created us as clones, but as unique works of art with glorious differences all for his glory. This is not a reality simply for pastors or ministry leaders.

Imagine what God's church would do if every Christ-following image-bearer within the body lived fully from their uniquely created and redeemed heart, recognizing that which burdens them (and knowing that is part of God's design as well,) and prayerfully following God's calling within their own heart, family, community, and ultimately the world. 

Don't get stuck in the funnel. That opening at the bottom of the funnel is strategic, so that as you live in community, you do so in a healthy, God-glorifying, other-impacting way.

_____________

This concept and more are explained much better and in more detail in the book Younique: Designing the Life that God Dreamed for You by Will Mancini, Dave Rhodes, and Cory Hartman. I highly recommend it. Click the title of the book to secure your own copy. 


What If You Received a Letter From Your Church About Your Giving?

A few years ago I finally recognized that when young pastors are told to find mentors in the ministry who have served as pastors longer, who are older, presumably wiser, and have more grey hair (or... no hair) that I was now in the category of the older pastors rather than the younger ones.

I see questions posted online on forums or on other social media platforms from young pastors wondering if something they are dealing with is "normal." Sometimes, there are questions presented such as "Do you think it is wise to _________?" referencing things that may seem logical, right, not unbiblical, but may cause controversy.

Yesterday,  young pastor messaged me a question. He was referencing some of my online posts, sermon clips, blog posts, etc. I have known this young man for quite a while and he serves a church located in another state, but in the same denominational tribe as ours. His question (paraphrased) was "How is this thoroughly gospel-centered messaging playing in your church? I imagine your demographics are similar to ours but you do not seem to be pulling any punches. I’m curious as to the impact with your people." I was so thankful for this question.

I answered initially with one word - longevity.

I have been serving as pastor at my church since 2005. Prior to that, I served seven years here at the same church in an associate pastor role. In other words, I have been here a long time. That does not give me permission to just say or do anything. However, longevity does help build trust. When a pastor is trusted, even if not agreed with regarding certain decisions, the opportunities for caring speech, seasoned with grace, and leading with intention occur.

Of course, the grace of God's people is incredible as well and not to be minimized. These wonderful people I have the privilege to pastor love well, serve gladly, and have shown me much grace over the years. An outspoken pastor needs a gracious church.

That being said, speaking truth and leading well are not things to be pushed to the back burner. 

There are times when I'm preaching when I say things that were not actually typed in my notes. These off-the-cuff statements must not to be unbiblical, unloving, or outside the theme or focus of the sermon. Yet, sometimes when I say such things, I leave those in the congregation (and often others on our staff...as well as my wife) saying "Did he really just say that?"

What I Said About "The Letter" 

Two Sundays ago, in my sermon focusing on generous giving and the fact that healthy Christians should be generous Christians, I spoke of the work of the church and the funding for missions and ministry that gifts from covenant church members provide. I mentioned tithing, but even in that, did not speak of it as a dogmatic rule in that I understand the Old Testament requirement for such giving by the Jews and the New Testament calling to live generously (meaning...it's not measured by a ten-percent amount. In other words, God desires one-hundred percent of our lives, not just a portion.) Nevertheless, I did not denounce the tithe. I believe it is a great start for generous giving and in my life, it has always been considered a minimum, not a maximum.

Mail-newsletter-home-mailbox-hiring

I then mentioned that our church may send a letter to those covenant church members who previously were on record as systematic, regular givers to the ministry of our church, but have most recently not been giving.

I didn't stay on that subject. It was not in my notes, but I did say it. 

Maybe I needed an older pastor to get counsel before saying it?

Nevertheless, a few members asked "Are you really going to send out a letter?" 

Some believed that many members would leave our church if such a letter were sent.

Other stated that what they give to the church is private and therefore, no one should know what they give.

Still others were wondering that since I stated from the stage that I do not know how much any individual church member gives, how could I know who should receive such a letter.

What Such a Letter Would Say

Rather than stir up something unnecessarily, let's look at what such a letter may say.

Here is some background on this. Our leadership team was meeting and discussing upcoming sermons and the topic of generous giving and this sermon came up. One of our pastors recalled when he and his wife were in seminary and they received a letter from the church where they were members. As is often the case in seminary, funds were tight and they had not given recently (for a period of time) as they had initially and had covenanted with their church to do.

Here is what his letter (well actually an email) stated:

Hey there,
 
I hope you are doing well. I think you probably know this, but in case you don't—one of the ways we try to hold church members accountable to the church covenant is checking in with members who have no recorded giving for an extended period of time.
 
We don't have any recorded giving for you for some time, so I wanted to touch base.
 
If you have been faithful in this area of our church covenant but have chosen to give cash anonymously, please just let me know that. I don't need to know numbers or anything; just that you are fulfilling this area of the covenant.
 
If, however, this is not an area that you have been fulfilling, let me just encourage you to do so soon. Again, our covenant does not specify and amount, but only that we give "cheerfully, regularly, and generously."
 
If there is some hardship that would prevent you from doing so, or if you have some concerns about this commitment, I'd love to sit down and talk with you about it.
 
Grace and peace.
 
(P.S. - The latest report I have is from early May. If you have given since then, just let me know!)

As our associate pastor read this to our team, I was taken by the overwhelming sense of care and grace expressed in these words. This was not a letter from a church bent on padding its bank account. It was from a pastor at the church tasked with connecting and keeping up with church members.

The truth is that some would not like getting such a letter, for the reasons I mentioned above. So I asked our associate pastor how he and his wife responded. 

He said they greatly appreciated the letter and it opened the door for them to repent to God for not fulfilling that which they have covenanted to do, but also to share with the pastor the very real needs they were facing. 

This was not a "going to the principal's office" encounter, but a moment revealed by a "red flag" of no giving (after previously giving regularly) that showed the church and pastoral staff how to serve and minister to this family.

Answers to the Common Questions

Concerns raised are legitimate and here is how I responded to a church member when these were presented to me.

  • For the church member who may be offended and leave because they receive such a letter: The truth is they likely have mentally (if not physically already left.) This is sad, but the "offense" taken is not legitimately offensive. Now, if they leave the church angrily and join a sister church, then perhaps the new start will be great for them. Sadly, the sister church likely would need our prayer.
  • For the church member who states "My giving is private!": Certainly, that may be true if the church member gives his/her offering in cash or cashier's check, does not use envelopes with their name on it, or does not use online giving. It is not a sin to give anonymously. In fact, it is a good thing (remember the right hand-left hand teaching in Scripture?) However, if a record of contributions is needed each year for one's personal income tax returns, the fact is that someone knows that amount given. At a minimum, it is the financial secretary at the church. In many cases, it will be the person's accountant. Certainly, the IRS knows. Private? Not so much. Now, that does not give one permission or affirmation to brag about one's gifts to the church or to other charities. Boastful giving is prideful giving. Prideful giving is self-serving. Self-serving giving is sinful.
  • As for the pastor (me) not knowing what anyone gives, that is true. I choose to not know. I don't scour the giving records of church members. I don't look to see who may be giving regularly. I don't because I know me. I do not want to know. I said in the early service last week that I do not want to know because I do not want to give the stink-eye to certain members and elevate others. Giving generously is not the litmus test for faithfulness, but it is one of many indicators of a healthy Christian.

What If You Received Such a Letter?

How would you respond to such a letter or email. In our case, it would not come from me, because I do not know the giving record of our church members, but as I stated, our financial secretary does and those who work in that area of our leadership team do (or at least can find out.) 

Would you respond with "Who do they think they are?" or would you respond with relief and thankfulness?

There may be church members, part of your church family, who are struggling financially right now. This may be due to loss of job, cut wages, pandemic forced shutdowns, increased medical bills, or any number of things. We all know that many in our churches would be embarrassed that others know of their struggles. Yes, we know that we should be able to share truthfully and pray for one another, but alas, pride and potential embarrassment keep us from doing so at times.

So, look at it this way, if a faithful, covenant member of your church suddenly stops giving, serving, attending, etc. it may be a sign of a deeper struggle. We would be at fault for ignoring such signs. This must not be judgmental, but true familial Christian love and care.

Of course, letters, emails, and text messages are often received wrongly and read with the feelings of the reader, not the intent of the sender. So, perhaps a phone call or personal conversation would be best. 


Why Be a Disciple of Jesus Christ from Your Church?

Recently I have been listening and learning from other pastors, church leaders, ministry coaches, and those on our own church staff about some of the things that are essential to be a healthy church as well as a church with distinctive doctrinal beliefs and functions.

Will Mancini, Dave Rhodes, David Loveless, Carey Nieuwhof, Bob Bumgarner, and many others have been leading in strategic areas of church health and strategic disciple-making for years. These have been instrumental in my ministry (some I know personally and others only through their books and resources) most recently when it comes to navigating through the quickly changing church culture (thank you COVID) for current and future kingdom impact.

In today's leadership meeting with our church's staff, I took a question I first heard from Will Mancini regarding disciple-making. I shifted it a bit from Mancini's wording. This question led to fruitful discussion and more questions from our team. As we seek to be the men and women God has called us to be here at our church (First Baptist Church of Orange Park) the question led to clarity and, to be honest, some concepts we have previously not considered. So...here's the question:

Why would God want a disciple from our church?

In other words, what distinctive things that make our church unique provide value to being a disciple of Jesus Christ?

Lightstock_435493_medium_david_tarkington

If there is nothing uniquely offered by the fellowship and community that is our church family, then what advantage or benefit is there to being part of our local church family?

This is a challenging question, especially in the age of growing non-denominationalism and the increase of "nones" when it comes to church connection and identity.

Our church is Baptist. We are part of the Southern Baptist Convention. We hold to an understanding of doctrine that is uniquely Baptist. I stated in our meeting today that while we may apologize for the actions and words of some within our Baptist faith tribe, we do not apologize for adhering to the doctrinal truths that define us as Baptist. In our case, these are delineated in our confessional statement, the Baptist Faith & Message 2000.

These doctrinal beliefs are important and valuable, but as we see in our own church as well as across the denominational spectrum, there are members who do not know, and sadly in some cases do not care, the distinctive and long-held beliefs that identify ourselves as Baptist. This is true for churches of other denominations as well when it comes to their distinctive beliefs.

Doctrine Matters

Christians should be kingdom-minded, focusing on reaching the world for Christ, living as authentic believers, and being faithfully part of a larger story where God alone is glorified. However, some have landed in a "kingdom-0nly" focus where they have abandoned the distinctive truths that identify doctrinal uniqueness. In some cases, it has led to an anti-denominational belief that perhaps on the surface looks good, but may lead individuals to a very muddy understanding of doctrinally distinctive teachings. 

There are also those who are so arrogantly denominational (or arrogantly "my church only") that they will not see how anyone outside their church or declared faith tribe can truly be Christian. I have been asked "Do you think that only Baptists go to heaven?" My answer has been "No, I don't even think all Baptists are going to heaven."

The rise of fundamentalism in some cases has led to some churches and church members living in this category. The kingdom of God is therefore ultimately ignored while the little kingdoms of "our church" is elevated.

Mancini and Rhodes speak of a place where kingdom growth and focus is high as well as faith tribe (denomination or church) distinctive identities. This is a healthy place of gracious confidence.

The graciously confident believer can state, "We know we're not the only ones working toward kingdom growth but we're confident about what we bring to the table." This is a definition given by Mancini and Rhodes.

Hard Questions

So, as we look at our/your specific church, what are the distinctive beliefs and functions that make our/your church unique? What does it mean to be a disciple of Jesus Christ from our/your church? What value does being part of our/your church provide the disciple? 

We are all called to love God, love people, and make disciples. That phrase is biblical, sounds good from the pulpit, and looks great on a tee shirt, but there is more the church must do in its disciple-making practice than just throw this tag-line out there.

We are taking a journey of faith together in our church that leads us to glorify God by being graciously confident in who we are in Christ. This is what each local church offers.

Does God desire more disciples from and through our/your church? Absolutely.

In our case, that means disciples who hold to the authority of the Word of God, reality of the Trinity, redemption through Christ alone, who is the Way, Truth, and the Life, priesthood of every believer, ordinances of baptism and the Lord's Supper as symbols of life and communion with God and our church family, and the opportunity to be part of a family equipped to glorify God by making disciples through redemptive communities.

Our unique calling is essential as is our adherence to the timeless doctrines of faith that identify us as God's children. In our case, this is declared in our alignment as Baptist Christians. 

Your church is to be a disciple-making church. So is mine. And it is vital we know why God would want more disciples from our church. This leads to kingdom-minded, biblically sound, graciously confident disciples who make disciples.


Pastoring In the Aftermath of the DC Riot

Early last week I read a news article that stated Iranian dissidents planned to attack the US Capitol Building on Wednesday, January 6. The threat was intercepted by air traffic controllers on Monday, January 4. Apparently, the motivation was retaliation of the 2020 killing of Iranian military leader, General Qassem Soleimani.

The threat was considered a fake, but nonetheless, the FAA notified federal law enforcement and precautions were apparently taken. 

As we know now, no air strike on the Capitol occurred on January 6, but an attack did occur. While the US Senate and House of Representatives were gathering to affirm the votes of the Electoral College, finalizing Joseph Biden's victory in the presidential race, a mob gathered in DC and eventually broke into the US Capitol. 

Capitol-washington-dc-government-building

As has been stated ad nauseam for  the past three days in the media, this is the first time such an infiltration has occurred in the Capitol since the British did so during the War of 1812.

Ideology & Theology

Like millions of other Americans, I watched the news reports on television and on social media. The images of people busting windows, breaking through doors, and sitting and standing upon the desks of elected officials caused great frustration for me. However, it was not the images of the Grand Poobah of the Water Buffalo Lodge, the man known as "Baked Alaska," or even "Big O" the Arkansan mail thief that were most disturbing for me. What caught my eye was the prominence of banners stating "Jesus 2020" as if Christ was running for office, and the numerous Christian flags appearing throughout the crowds.

I’ve written of the danger of wrapping the American flag around the cross in the past. This goes far beyond healthy patriotism. When well-meaning Christians continue to wrap the flag around the cross, eventually the cross is no longer visible.  

One's political ideology should be influenced by one's theology. Sadly, some tend to get this backward.

Pastors: Be Strong and Courageous 

To my pastor friends who led well during the election cycle of 2020 by continually reminding your church members to pray for those in authority over them (Romans 13,) register to vote, be good citizens, and vote with conviction as men and women whose biblical worldviews drive their ideological and political beliefs...get ready. I believe many pastors will face challenges due to the events of this week that will test our capacity to shepherd well.

What you may face...

Perhaps you were appalled at the events of January 6 and spoke out online and in conversations. I pray you were able to do so from a place of calmness and clarity. Even so, if you dared call out those who resorted to violence and the destruction of national landmarks or those you believe incited such actions, not everyone in your congregation will approve of your words. Some will be angry and may let you know via text, email, social media, or if you're really fortunate, about five minutes before you preach on Sunday.

No church of any size is politically homogenous, even if every member is registered as the same political party. There are differences and strong opinions held by many. Once you declare your opposition to a politician revered by others, you will be labeled. In the binary world we live in, you are either anti-someone or pro-someone. Most cannot fathom that you can be strongly opposed to an individual in your chosen party and still be vehemently opposed to the platform statements of the opposition party (or vice versa.)

If you dared make statements against things said or done by the crowd at the Capitol last week, there will be some in your flock who may accuse you of being pro-big government, pro-abortion, pro-LGBTQ activism, and any number of other things categorized as liberal policy which, based on your long-held biblical convictions and theological conservatism, you oppose. But...that won't matter. You will be labeled. 

In anger, some may ask your opinions of the Black Lives Matter riots that occurred last year. You may be asked what you think about Antifa. Some will wonder why you still use Twitter and didn't get a Parler account. Some will label you any number of things that are not part of your job description as pastor, much less descriptive of who you are as a Christian. You may be labeled things like liberal, snowflake, sheep (okay that one is biblical, but likely not how they are using it,) progressive, or any other currently trending insult term.

What is strange is that you haven't changed at all. The biblical conservatism and inerrancy of God's Word you held to last week is the same today. Your calling as a minister of the Gospel of Jesus Christ has not been revoked. God has not shifted. Your love for him and others has not waned. Your love for your church is secure. Your desire to teach sound doctrine, love the unlovable, engage your community for the sake of Christ, and any other thing you have faithfully led your church to do and be remains.

Yet...you may be doubted now more than ever.

But, maybe it is not so strange?

Maybe this is what we should expect–the enemy seeking to destroy God's church, not primarily through the elimination of free speech on social media (yes, this is a problem,) not through the bifurcation of the American people, not from laws that will seek to censor biblical preaching (yes, this is a huge problem as well and seemingly coming,) not from threats without, but from within.

And it has always been this way.

Pastor, continue to lean into God and his Word. Trust him. Pray for your flock. Be strong and courageous and speak words of truth. These days may not be easy. In fact, they will not be. We are called to be unified, but our unity centers around Christ. I encourage you to not forsake the truth for a false sense of togetherness. Be humble. Be gentle. Be patient and bear with one another. 

Be strong and courageous.

Regardless what happens in Washington DC, God remains who he always has been and always will be. He is sovereign. He is King of kings, Lord of lords, and you are his child called to serve him by shepherding his flock. I'm praying for you and for your church. I ask that you pray for me and the church I serve as well.

Ephesians 4:1-6

I therefore, a prisoner for the Lord, urge you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. There is one body and one Spirit—just as you were called to the one hope that belongs to your call— one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all.

 The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2016). (Eph 4:1–6). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles.

 


Becoming a Healthy Church Takes More Than a Resolution

Last Sunday, I preached the sermon for our church's in-person and online gathering from my home office. The new year begins with a two-month sermon series on the the doctrine of the church. The irony of preaching the first sermon in a series titled "Healthy Church" from home due to being quarantined did not escape me. (Last week we had a positive COVID-19 test in our household so we are in quarantine.) 

Preaching via video is not my preference and had we received our COVID test results earlier, I likely would have asked one of our associate pastors to preach last Sunday's message. Nevertheless, God used our gathering (in-person and online) to set the table for a series of messages calling for collective and individual change as we corporately seek to be a healthy, multiplying, church.

Healthy Church HD Screen

There have been many books, articles, and sermons written on what it takes to be a healthy church. We are highlighting just a few characteristics over the next two months, knowing there are many more designators of health within the body than we will be able to cover on Sundays. 

In our series, we are highlighting the following attributes of health for the church:

  • The Healthy Church Prays Expectantly
  • The Healthy Church Gathers Intentionally
  • The Healthy Church Preaches Boldly
  • The Healthy Church Gives Generously
  • The Healthy Church Serves Gladly
  • The Healthy Church Worships Truly
  • The Healthy Church Loves Unconditionally
  • The Healthy Church Equips Strategically
  • The Healthy Church Lives Authentically

For the final message of the series, we have Jared C. Wilson preaching on what it means to be a Gospel-Driven Church and to live authentically in the fellowship of faith.

The challenge to remain healthy is not unlike the physical challenges we face individually. Many are making resolutions to exercise, eat healthier, and to do healthy things. These are good, but we all know that to become and remain healthy requires more than a quick fix. It takes time and effort, but the results are worth it. The same is true for the local church.

We Need More Healthy Churches

I am praying that local churches will take needed steps in 2021 to become and remain healthy. This will require more than a theme and graphic for Sunday mornings (we have both a theme and a graphic, so I'm not saying don't do this.) It begins with prayer, with total submission to God, and just as disciple-making is not instant, so too is healthy church living. We must remember that health is not determined by the size of the church, the notoriety of the pastor, or the number of unique ministries offered.

To my pastor friends seeking to lead well during this era of the pandemic–stay the course. I am praying for you. We are seeking not to lead our churches back to whatever is defined as  "normal" but toward what is defined as biblical.

Hang in there. Lead well and know that you are not alone in this endeavor.

 

_________

Resources

Mark Dever has written an excellent book titled "Nine Marks of a Healthy Church." It is a great place to start in evaluating and leading the local body well. Yet, even Dever admits there are more than nine marks to what it means to be healthy. May God reveal what you and your church need at this juncture in order to be strong, healthy, God-glorifying, and multiplying.


You Might Be a Consumer Christian If...

Jeff Foxworthy has made a living off one joke. The "You might be a redneck if..." joke launched his career and he has done very well, to say the least. 

My friend Mike Williams has done stand-up comedy in churches for years and he had a set where he copied Foxworthy's model, but gave it a Baptist identity. I still remember some of his punchlines.

You might be a Southern Baptist if:

  • Your pastor's name is written in dry-erase marker on the sign out front.
  • You ever bummed a cigarette off a deacon.
  • You have never sung the third stanza of a hymn.

There are more, but these are the ones I remember.

It was earlier this week as I began reading a new book by Will Mancici titled Future Church. This book, along with his others Church Unique and God Dreams should be read by all church leaders. It clarifies some things about the American church and how we are structured that need to be addressed. As Mancini and co-author Cory Hartman were working on this latest book and moving toward publication date, the pandemic hit. As I read now, it is clear that the revelations given by Mancini and Hartman are not only timely but essential for the local church today.

Upper and Lower Room Churches

I won't go into all the details of what the authors are defining. You would need to get the book for the nuts and bolts of all this. However, the concept of Upper Room and Lower Room churches is so essential I will try to summarize it here.

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People who go to and stay at a local church (we'll talk pre-pandemic era) often do so for one of four reasons (in addition to the Holy Spirit's lead.)

These are:

  1. Place - the location of the church building or gathering is important. For some, the building holds memories (the sacredness or "sacred cow" syndrome) for the members. Often these are of bygone days when great spiritual moments occurred in the life of a person (where they were saved, where they met their spouse, where they were baptized, etc.)
  2. Personality - the pastor is not only an initial draw, but that which keeps people coming. How many friends of yours tweet or post graphics featuring their pastor and comments or phrases he said during a sermon? He's engaging. He's funny. He seems to care. Then...if he leaves a percentage of attenders drift away as well. Oh, it may not be the lead pastor either. In some cases, it is the associate pastor of the designated "most favorite ministry program" who is the draw. That leads us to the next element.
  3. Programs - whether it is AWANA, the women's Bible study, the senior adult trips, the youth group, or any other such ministry or program, these draw many people. These are not bad, but they certainly are not the fullness of what church is or should be. Think of these programs as entry ways or onramps to the church. Sadly, some tend to stand in the entry, or park on the onramp. You know how frustrating that can be, especially if you are behind them. Lastly...
  4. People - the people are the church, right? Yes and no. The people who are Christians make up the church and it is the people gathered who are the church. We (all of us) are relational beings and that means we need others. Even introverts who secretly want to live as hermits actually need others to be healthy and obedient to all the "one anothers" of Scripture. What happens is even in open groups, a tendency for perceived "us four and no more" develops. Why? Not because we do not like others, but that we are like Lego pieces and all our connections are snapped together with no room for others (thanks to Larry Osborne for that illustration.) Mancini states, "When people get their identity from friendships at church, they resist the proverbial open chair." (Future Church, p. 27)

Mancini and Hartman reveal that these four elements of church connectedness and church growth are part of the lower room. They are the most easily accessed areas (if you picture a house with a lower floor and an upper floor.) Yet, it is the upper room where the church's vision, mission, and disciple-making strategy is cemented. The challenge we all face is moving those from the lower room to the upper room. It could be said that Jesus had thousands in the lower room of his ministry (remember the crowd who received free food from Christ) and at one key moment only 120 in the upper room (a literal upper room in Acts 1:15.) 

The clarity in this illustration helps me in understanding some of the challenges and realities we now face in the local church. The pandemic is revealing much of this, not creating it. Like other pastors, I have decried the growth of the consumerism in the church (while confessing that much of our programming and structure actually fuels this reality.) Now, I see that most people are not intentionally desiring to be consumer Christians. It may simply be that they are just enjoying the lower room and have never been led to the staircase leading to the upper room.

But beware, consumer Christianity is so very easy.

Consumer Christianity and the Lower Room

So, as I seek to help brothers and sisters with a bit of self-diagnosis, here are some things that may reveal you have slid into consumerism (and this is no joke)...

You might be a consumer Christian if, (since the pandemic hit):

  • You haven't watched your church's online service in its fullness.
  • You long to get back to "normal" so you can take the kids back to the fun mid-week program at your church.
  • You haven't joined a Zoom or online group with others in your church family.
  • Your Sundays have been filled with other activities and you aren't sure you will adjust your calendar to attend post-pandemic.
  • You have "attended" numerous other churches online and like the music at Church A, the preaching at Church B, and the events of Church C. You basically created a buffet church (it's the Golden Corral of Christianity...let that sink in.)
  • You haven't prayed with other believers.
  • You haven't partaken of the ordinance of the Lord's Supper with your church family (and you never thought about that until you read this.)
  • You use the pandemic as your reason excuse for not gathering as the church, but have gone to grocery stores, restaurants, shopping centers, the zoo, theme parks, ball games, and other places where crowds are gathering (without as many guidelines as your church has put in place for safety.)
  • You don't miss the church.

Consumer Christianity has been manufactured well in our nation. The church growth movement that fueled the offering of ministries and events as custom-fitted, marketable religiously-themed items not only left many people in the lower room of what should be the healthy church, but left them with many others people (thousands even) so that it felt normal.

This cancerous, sinful, short-sighted church strategy does not make disciples, but only creates fake disciples (thanks to Mancini for that term.)

So, you may discover that you have found a nice, comfortable sofa in the foyer of the lower room of church. It's comfortable, but does not transform lives. 

But this is not an easy shift.

I am shaken by Mancini's revelation on this. He says "The bottom line is that I underestimated the power of the Lower Room. Its gravitational pull is not the tug of a minor moon. but the force field of a black hole." (Future Church, p. 35)

The good news is that no one has to remain in the lower room. While the lower room is not bad. It is not unChristian. It is not evil. It simply is not enough. It is not the fullness of church. When the lower room is all there is, consumer Christianity reigns. No one has to settle in to consumer Christianity. That is not the way.

It is time to move up to the Upper Room. Praise be to God, he has removed many of the items that left many settling for religious God-stuff, with no transformation and ultimately...no maturation as a Christ-follower (and for some, a revelation of a non-existent relationship to God through Jesus Christ.) Repent. Come home. And...come on up.


Why Pastors Desire Celebrity Status (Knowing They Shouldn't)

There are instances in pastoral leadership when we must admit that even though we know certain things are not best for the church or the path to disciple-making, we do them anyway. 

For instance, most gospel-focused pastors I know clearly affirm how the growth "consumer Christianity" has negatively impacted the church in our culture. Yet, even knowing and stating this, we often continue to develop ministries, services, and programs that actually feed the consumer mentality. I am not saying that all ministries and activities should cease, but rather than leading contextually and biblically, it just becomes easier to provide a buffet of "church stuff" hoping the already attending continue to attend (and give) and that some unchurched may begin, while shoving strategic, relational disciple-making to the back burner. This is not a shot at other pastors and churches. it's a revelation from my own mirror.

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Another circumstance that many consider to be a modern-day result of social media and celebrity culture is the rise of the "celebrity pastor." Even the title sounds icky and though there is no biblical office for "celebrity pastor" the position nevertheless exists in our culture today. 

Though many consider this to be a modern-day trend only, Carey Nieuwhof reminds us in an article he posted a number of years ago that this has been the case since the beginning of the church. Remember the church members who liked Paul more than Apollos and so on? Nieuwhof even clarifies that not everything is a negative when it comes to celebrity pastor status, but the dangers are very real (Full Article Here

Rise of Celebrity

Even prior to the advent of social media and trending stories, memes, and posts, some pastors became globally known and impacted the lives of thousands, if not millions. For instance, even years after his death I still hear how the life and ministry of Billy Graham has impacted many personally. 

Yet, it seems within the last twenty years or so a new, fast-growing trend of celebrity status hit the American church. Pastors were platformed (many never sought it) and found themselves as influencers and community impact leaders in very positive ways. In addition to the clearly defined false teachers (hucksters) of the prosperity-gospel who fleece congregants and television viewers of funds for personal gain, some well-intentioned, theologically-sound preachers and teachers began to be raised up.

Names became well-known among Christians and church leaders. Conferences were held. Teaching was offered. Video series were developed. In some cases, bands and worship teams were developed to promote the brand (oh...and God too.) I began to see pastors and young Christian leaders name their children after such celebrity pastors. 

While I have a number of books on my shelves written by some of these men, I often wondered how long they could ride this wave of status. I confess that I should have been praying for these men while reading their books and listening to their sermons.

The Inevitable Fall

Whether celebrity status was desired or not, many found themselves no longer simply shepherding the flock in their local church, but managing a global brand of marketable Christianity. 

It is 2020 and far too many of these men who were filling stadiums, doing book tours, sitting on the couches on secular talk shows, and promoting their brand online have fallen. 

It is tragic.

Churches have closed. Others have fired leaders. Some sadly have resorted to legal action against brothers and sisters. Those presumed to be godly have been exposed to be mean-spirited. Church leaders who excused wrong actions and attitudes for years have finally addressed the elephant in the room.

Some leaders private, unbiblical sexual activities have been exposed. Marriages have ended. Children have suffered. Families have divided. The collateral damage is immense.

Even some leaders who are now deceased are having their previously hidden sinful actions revealed. 

Sexual abuse has happened far too often (BTW - when it occurs once, it is far too often) in churches. Sexual abuse victims have been shamed in attempts to keep the ministry's brand viable and marketable.

Those who found themselves riding high now wonder where their fans are.

Why, Then Would Pastors Want This?

There is something about the heart - you know, the sinful, self-focused, self-loving heart that we all have within us. The longing we have for being loved reigns. The desire to be applauded is real. The jealousy that rises when we see others whom we deem to be less talented and less articulate being idolized and platformed in our industry (in this case, in American Christianity) occurs all too often. 

Fleeting thoughts of "It would be nice to be leading a church that size, to be preaching at a conference like that, to be a best-selling author doing book signings, to be an internet influencer, to be a 'cool pastor,' to be sought, to be elevated, etc." come into the minds of many. 

Full transparency - I've had these thoughts, too. I have them far too often.

Even knowing how the Enemy loves to prop up those proclaiming the gospel just to tear them down does not convince us to be content.

What To Do?

I guess that really is the answer. Our contentedness, our joy, our ministry must be solely found in Christ. (BTW - we know this...but we still fail too often) The longing to make a difference, to leave a legacy, to impact lives for eternity, is good. It is holy. Yet, it is the good that can often be perverted unknowingly. 

To live humbly, but boldly as Christ's ambassadors is the call. 

There have been many, many godly men and women throughout Christendom who were known in their day, influential in their era, are revered today years after their passing, and have been seen as legacy leavers for Christ's sake. In other words, being known by many is not a sin. In fact, as stated earlier, it is often God's design to make himself known.

What makes the difference is when the private life and the public life of the Christian leader match. The pastor seeking to live holy, striving to live generously, focusing on the gospel, and glorifying God in private must also do so in public (and vice versa.)

When the temptation to want to be known seeps in, we must repent and rely on God to keep us focused on him, on making him known, on glorifying him. We won't do this perfectly, and that's the joy (or struggle at times) of pastoring well. 

Pray for the Pastors 

Oh, and pray for those who are known, leading large churches and ministries, preaching truth, and seeking to impact the world for God's glory. Pray for them because if they fall...the impact will reverberate throughout the church, the community, and in some cases the world. 

Pray for the relatively unknown ones as well. The temptations are just as real. If they fall, others are impacted. It may be a smaller number of those impacted and hurt, but the ramifications are just as real.

I would love to never have to see another headline of a celebrity pastor's failure. 

Recommended Reading

There are many books written by godly leaders that address the challenges of pastoring and the temptations faced. Two that I recommend are by Paul David Tripp.

Dangerous Calling: Confronting the Unique Challenges of Pastoral Ministry and Lead: 12 Gospel Principles for Leadership in the Church


What I Wish I Knew Earlier About Planting Churches & Sending Church Planters

Church planting is considered trendy by some.

Church planting is a term that has become used greatly in the past decade or so, but in truth is not new. In fact, it is how the gospel has spread throughout the world, from city to city, community to community, and family to family since the birth of the church in the book of Acts. Church planting is so much more than a trend. If it is a trend, it has been trending for two-thousand years.

I am thankful for the men I know who are now planting churches and supporting church plants throughout our nation and world. Intentional and strategic church planting in regions and areas where local expressions of church are needed continue to happen. Our goal as a church and mine as a pastor has been to help identify the men God has called to this amazing task, to equip them, enable them, and encourage them as they serve.

Church planting is not easy. It is exciting and it always looks great on video clips and promotional pieces, but the daily grind can be very difficult. Many of the planters and families we serve with have expressed those moments of isolation, feeling forgotten by their sending church, ignored by supporters, and wondering if they may have missed God's call.

That is why encouragement and continued support is needed.

Knowing Then What I Know Now

As a pastor of a legacy church (a nice term used to describe an old church) I have sought to help church planters, and call out men in our own church family to lead the way in this endeavor for the past decade or so. It has been a learning experience for me. The good news is that we have families serving on the field now, exactly where God desires them to be, in other cities, states, and even nations. They are truly on the front lines of gospel service as they have answered the call of God.

As I review our church's history of church planting and preparing church planters, it is clear that all who have surrendered to this call and continue to serve in this capacity were blessed by God greatly and serve well due to many factors, in spite of our help. In other words, we did not know what we did not know, but if we had it to do over again, we (as a church and leadership) would be more strategic and intentional for the sake of our planters. In many cases, as I review each, it is clear that we may have been so enamored with the concept of planting churches and campuses that we did not rightly pray for and prepare those God placed before us.

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Sadly, we helped some step into planter positions who should never have done so (at least not as soon as they did.) As a Send Network Trainer, I now go through many weeks of teaching and study with local church planters that provide information and expose blind spots early on. This type of training was mostly unavailable or ignored in our past. Therefore, our campuses and plants suffered unnecessarily. 

Scott Ball, writing for the Malphurs Group lists "Ten Deadly Church Planting Mistakes" in a blog post. It is a hard read because I recognize a number of mistakes I have made in the past with our planters. 

The ten mistakes are:

  1. Not going through assessment
  2. Planting without a coach
  3. Launching too quickly
  4. Leading without a team
  5. Launching too small
  6. Relying too heavily on outside funding
  7. Neglecting solid assimilation plans
  8. Installing local governance too quickly
  9. Waiting too long to implement a leadership pipeline
  10. Neglecting the process of strategic planning.

These are delineated in the blog post here. Some of these seem basic, and they are. Yet, in the excitement and joy of planting something new, often a few of these items are left to the wayside, only to be discovered to be needed and important later. Sadly, often too late.

Church Planting Goals

It is important to have vision and clarity when it comes to planting a church, but it also must be understood that there are times when our vision for a new work will help launch a church, but not sustain. In other words, the vision may seem set in stone, but after a year or so of engaging a community, attempting to grow disciples, and be the church needed in a community, that vision may change. 

Anson McMahon, lead pastor of Emmaus Church near Atlanta shared his thoughts on church planting and truths discovered in the journey here. One point that resonates with me is that as a pastor I must remember that Jesus knows what he's doing even when I often do not. 

To be flexible as a church planter and pastor is an understatement. It is required because change is the only constant (well, other than God) in the journey.

What Feels Like a Failure May Be a Win

We all want to win. Winning means accomplishing the task at hand well and doing so better than others. It's about crossing that finish line first. Yet, in church planting, what we often see as failure may actually be a victory.

It is not a failure to admit the plan is not working.

It is not a failure to shift focus.

It is not a failure to move to another area of ministry.

It may feel like failure, but it does not have to be.

Every church has a shelf-life. While the gates of hell will not prevail on Christ's church, the local body of believers gathered as church may change or shift over time. In fact, as is the case in our city, many will find their season of service coming to an end. This has been true in America for decades. We have seen it throughout Europe for centuries. The church of Jesus Christ prevails, but sometimes, the season of service of a local body in a specific place comes to a close. This should not be so that ministry ceases, but so the next chapter of gospel-centered ministry may flourish. 

As Baptists we are well-equipped in starting things like programs, events, ministries, or even church plants. We often do not recognize well when a season has ended. That is why some churches continue to have varied ministries attempting to function that were perfectly designed to reach and minister to a population who no longer exists. Thus the church lives under the banner of "We've always done this" wondering why there are no longer any positive results.

Sometimes a church plant (or a campus plant) served its purpose and has impacted a community well. A healthy church plant will shift from "plant" status to "church" status and engage as an autonomous family of believers. Yet, sometimes this does not happen. There are numerous reasons. Sometime blame must be placed at the foot of leaders. Sometimes this is due to outside impacts that leaders have no control over (you know, like a pandemic or increased facility rental costs.) 

Regardless, the church and leaders must seek to learn from each experience. It is too easy to allow bitterness, negativity, and feelings of failure to grow. 

I have seen churches and planters ignore or avoid church planting assessment. In such instances, problems have arisen in leadership that could have been addressed prior to the launching. When these issues arise months after the launch, the damage may be so severe the entire plant ceases.

This grieves me. Especially because it is avoidable.

Did You Plant a Church Or Just a Service?

This is something that I fear often creeps into our journeys of church planting. If the church plant is intended to reach an unchurched community by engaging one-on-one in the neighborhood, offering Bible studies, relationships, worship encounters, and the fullness of church to an area void of such, it means more must be done than just relocating a group of faithful servants to a new facility.

In other words, if the church plant is little more than a worship service, you have not planted a church. You have just relocated a gathering of believers to a new building. That can be a great start, but it is not a church.

Tim Keller says it best (full article here) ...

You might be passionate about expositional preaching and having really good preaching, and so you want to start a church. But, if all you want is your own pulpit, that is a horrible reason to plant a church. There are plenty of other pulpits out there that you can go to, but don't plant a church just so you can have your own. Or if you're passionate about good liturgy or good music, don't plant a church in order to have that.  Instead, find a church that you can plug into and be a part of that because church planting is so much more than just having the desire or the ability to plan and to prepare for what makes a really good worship service. You are not an event planner; you're a church planter, and these are two very different things. Now, planning a good worship service is of course going to be a part of church planting, but for those of you who have just started church planting or are thinking about it, you are gonna be surprised by how little of your time is actually devoted to that.

If I knew then what I know now...

Like many churches who jumped on the latest iteration of church planting in recent years, we have enjoyed the journey. We have seen lives transformed. We have heard the gospel proclaimed by those who were more silent in their personal witness prior to the new work. We have seen righteous risks taken. We have seen communities changed and great, godly things have happened. 

It has been good.

Yet, we also acknowledge that there were times we ran too quickly, even ahead of our prayers and God-given vision and strategy. As a friend used to tell me "Good is the enemy of best" and we settled for good (with moments of great) but should have been wise enough to wait for best. 

The Future Is Bright

We still plant churches.

We still send church planters.

We hope to do this even more in our church in the coming years. In fact, we are praying to be the sending or supporting church for forty church planters by 2040. Some megachurches can do that in about six months. For us, it will take longer. This means we must do more than drop a few dollars in the mail to a planter every now and then. It will require more than sending a mission team to another city on occasion. It will require strategic prayer and planning to send, support, and sustain church plants in our city and beyond for the long-term. 

We are learning from our past. We are thankful for the lessons. We long to be wiser as we move forward. 

We are reminded that God has a mission. His mission has a church. We are that church. To God be the glory.

And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it. - Matthew 16:18 ESV


"It's 2020" Is No Excuse for Not Being Thankful

"It's 2020" has become the common response to anything and everything that has and is happening out of the ordinary and causing disruption in our pre-planned, surprise-free, "normal" lives. I get it. To state that this year has been challenging would be an understatement. While no year's schedule goes according to plan exactly, this year has been off the charts thanks to a mixture of words that begin with "p" – pandemic, politics, and protests.

It's 2020.

That's the response to "Why is this happening now?" or "This is not what I had planned," and even "Well...we're out of toilet paper again."

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It's 2020.

Even Christ-followers have fallen into a malaise (I've been wanting to use that word since the 1979 Jimmy Carter speech) that seems to have robbed many from the joy and abundant life that Christ proclaims we should be experiencing. Some have stated that this year seems like the longest in history. I understand that, too, but I checked. It's only one day longer than most years and that is simply because it is a leap year.

Church activities and events have changed. Online services have replaced in-person services for many (at least for a season) and prognosticators and survey takers are stating that many who attended church services in person with some form of regularity prior to March will never come back. That's a huge ball of discouragement for pastors and church leaders. 

But, it's 2020.

This year has produced challenges that have caught us off guard. Each person and family has had to pivot and shift to make things work best. That includes working from home, becoming homeschoolers, adjusting expectations, and seeking to understand what this new normal will be without being sucked into the latest conspiracy theories of global domination. 

Because it's 2020.

If I had a dollar for each person who told me things would get back to "normal" (meaning pre-March) after the election, I could fund Lottie Moon's Christmas Offering with record donations. Now we are a few weeks after the election and...in case you haven't noticed...nothing has changed. There are more guidelines in place for some. Some churches who just began in-person services are shifting back to online only. Fear is rising. People are still angry. And...now it's almost Thanksgiving and many are frustrated in our nation that guidelines and rules in certain areas are in place that will hinder their gatherings. 

Thankful? For what? It's 2020.

It is during times like this that Christians must seriously consider how to worship, how to be thankful, and how to trust God more. This is extremely difficult for western and American Christians who often elevate personal rights over submission to Christ.

Sometimes personal rights and freedoms (which I love, by the way) are used as weapons of the enemy to keep people from focusing on the main issues of life. Discernment is key for the Christ-follower. We must not stand on our independence to such a degree that we forget our total dependence on Christ. 

So, let's be thankful. Not because this year has been so much fun, but because nothing has occurred in 2020 (or any other year in the past or future) that God has not been Lord over. His sovereignty is not simply in place when things go according to our plans, for our ease, and for our immediate benefit. God is sovereign over all. He truly is Lord of lords and King of kings, and for this we must be thankful.

Paul gives Timothy and us a good reminder regarding contentedness and thankfulness.

But godliness with contentment is great gain, for we brought nothing into the world, and we cannot take anything out of the world. 1 Timothy 6:6-7 ESV

So give thanks with a grateful heart.

It's 2020 and God is not shaken.

He is sovereign over the calendar, over the pandemic, over the politics of the age, over the protests, and hopefully over you. 

Oh give thanks to the Lord, for he is good;  for his steadfast love endures forever! 1 Chronicles 16:34 ESV


What the Pastor Is Expected and Obligated To Do

In most churches pastors are hired (called) and given a job description which lists expectations the congregation holds. Perhaps this is an example of current-era business practices and human resource strategies being "baptized" and brought into the church. I am not saying that is bad, but the job description (hopefully one centered on the biblical responsibilities and qualifications) often does not delineate the unspoken expectations of the pastor.

Those expectations are normally discovered by acts of omission (or perhaps commission.) 

We are beyond using the excuse "They didn't teach me that in seminary" in that pastor/shepherds do very many things not taught in seminary. Things that no class syllabus could lay out have occurred in every pastor's experience. 

For example, it may seem like no big deal to rearrange the furniture in a Sunday School class or to move a podium from one room to another where it could be better used, but when the pastor finds out that the podium was built by long-deceased Brother Buford and was meant to remain in his old classroom...a "special called business meeting" may be on the horizon.

Every pastor who has served for any significant length of time in a local church (whether an established church or a new plant) will have stories where he inadvertently crossed a line or stepped on a social landmine unawares.

There are  expectations that churches and Christians as individuals have for pastors that are truly biblical and should never be questioned, abdicated, or ignored. 

Preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, and exhort, with complete patience and teaching.  - 2 Timothy 4:2 ESV

Pay careful attention to yourselves and to all the flock, in which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to care for the church of God, which he obtained with his own blood.  - Acts 20:28 ESV

And he gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ.  - Ephesians 4:11-12 ESV

So I exhort the elders among you, as a fellow elder and a witness of the sufferings of Christ, as well as a partaker in the glory that is going to be revealed: shepherd the flock of God that is among you, exercising oversight, not under compulsion, but willingly, as God would have you; not for shameful gain, but eagerly; not domineering over those in your charge, but being examples to the flock. And when the chief Shepherd appears, you will receive the unfading crown of glory.  - 1 Peter 5:1-4 ESV

There are others, but the point is that Scripture speaks to the obligations, responsibilities, morality, and expectations of the one called out by God to serve as pastor in his local church.

Then, there are other expectations that are placed upon the pastor by well-intentioned church members. Not all expectations are bad. In fact, most could not be categorized as being unbiblical. There are many expectations that are little more than cultural or historical and while not actually spoken of or against in Scripture, if these items usurp the priority of prayer, Bible study, and preaching the Word well (allowing time for study) then the church could actually be piling on responsibilities designed not by God, but by others, that will actually harm the ministry by keeping the pastor tired, perpetually dissatisfied, absent from his family, and unprepared for the primacy of the role.

Hospital Visitation

For example, while visiting the sick in hospitals or those in nursing homes is not mentioned as a pastoral responsibility in those terms in the Bible, it is often the right thing to do (pending COVID restrictions.) It is actually the right thing to do for all Christians and not just a pastoral responsibility.

Counseling

Offering counseling is another good thing. It is even a biblical thing, but not the primary thing pastors must do.

Community Events

Being visible in the community at local gatherings, club meetings, prayer breakfasts, golf tournaments, board meetings, etc. are not necessarily bad, but if done in order to elevate self (or to elevate one's pastor) or to create some form of small-pond celebrity status...then, well, it is bad and likely sinful. They can also overwhelm a pastor's schedule keeping him from the primary call, by creating a full calendar of events that have nothing to do with the church or the call. 

Funerals

Preaching at funerals is expected by church members, though not a mandate in scripture. In fact, this has become a very important part of my ministry. As I serve the Lord in a church with many aging members, funerals have become far more regular on my schedule than I desire. Yet, these moments of gathering with family and friends, remembering a recently passed loved one, celebrating God's grace and mercy, and proclaiming the truth of the gospel allows for these moments that always interrupt our schedules to become holy pauses where God is glorified and the truth is declared.

Weddings

Then, there are weddings. I have had the honor of officiating many weddings over the years. Each one has been unique and each has presented a new set of questions to answer.

While much talk in Christian circles is about the fallout related to the Obergefell decision of the US Supreme Court a few years back making same-sex unions legal, I won't address the intricacies of that here as I have written about it previously. However, in case it is not known, I do not agree with the Supreme Court decision and I hold to the biblical definition of marriage being only between one man (born a man) to one woman (born a woman) for life in a covenant relationship.

I have been part of many Christian weddings where God was honored clearly and the worship experience truly occurred. They have been memorable, joyous, holy occasions.

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Nevertheless, some "Christian" weddings have shifted from being a ceremony where God was worshipped, where the union of man and woman was clearly expressed as an illustration of Christ and his church, and the crowd walked away knowing they had experienced holy matrimony (with an emphasis on holy) to being little more than an event designed to be remembered for the dress of the wedding party, the  venue, decorations, theme, Instagram hashtag, and the post-ceremony antics.

Weddings are Big Business

It is clear from "Say Yes to the Dress" to the renovations of old barns and farms into destination wedding venues, and even the influence of so-called reality shows such as "The Bachelor" and every "I married someone I just met..." show on TLC, that weddings have become big business. The show becomes more important than the vows for some and amazingly many are left scratching their heads when the shine has worn off and they realize they put far more energy and money into the wedding than the marriage.

It is painful to watch.

It is more painful as a pastor to know that at some level I may have allowed this to occur by ignoring the guidelines for marriage and steps needed to help a bride and groom wisely prepare and plan for their wedding and ultimately marriage.

Church members have expectations and they just presume that the pastor will officiate their child or grandchild's wedding, or maybe even their own wedding simply because he is the pastor and that is what he is supposed to do.

Over the years, I have made numerous mistakes when it comes to weddings. I have stood as the pastor, God's ambassador, calling a man and woman into holy matrimony, without preparing them for what the ceremony means and what is to come. Sometimes, I have done so because I knew this was my expected role. Other times, it was because I knew the people getting married and called them friends. 

Often guidelines are written to help keep future mistakes from being made. Therefore, we have set up some guidelines that provide guardrails for our pastors and ministers on staff. In fact, it gives them permission to say "NO" to a couple when they have been asked to officiate such a ceremony in order to provide a larger "YES" to helping them walk into a godly, biblical marriage.

Pre-marital counseling is a must and we utilize the "Saving Your Marriage Before It Starts" material by Drs. Les and Leslie Parrott. There are many other quality pre-marital counseling resources available and each pastor must deem what works best for him and the couple. The key is to ensure it is not rushed and serious evaluation and discussion occurs, always going back to God's role for husband and wife and his blessing upon the union. 

When do we say NO to weddings?

Well, this list is not in order of importance or all encompassing, but does provide some basics for our church's pastors when it comes to weddings. There could be lists for every segment above, but the wedding issue continues to be one that must be addressed, so here is a sampling of when we say "no":

  • When either bride or groom is a believer seeking to marry a non-believer. 
  • When the bride or groom have never attended the church, or any church.
  • When the bride or groom used to attend but haven't been active in years and just want the pastor or venue for the ceremony because "that's expected."
  • When neither the bride or groom is a believer. There really is no need to have a Christian wedding for non-Christians, though the opportunity to share the gospel must not be ignored.
  • When another pastor at the church the couple actually attends refused to officiate their wedding due to some biblical offense and the couple is only seeking some other pastor to fill the spot.
  • When the couple refuses to participate in multi-session pre-marital counseling.
  • When elements of the service actually make a mockery of God and his design (for instance, I refused a ceremony where the bride was going to wear a tuxedo and the groom was going to wear a dress because they thought it was "funny.")
  • When a couple is living together out of wedlock. There may be cases where the individuals are unbelievers who both recently surrendered their lives to Christ and allowances (temporary separation, quick counsel and private ceremony, etc.) are made. In these cases, the God-honoring aspects are clear. Yet, there are also cases where long-time church members/attenders just ignore these guidelines, move in together (the line is often "for financial reasons") and basically expect the pastor/minister to ignore the facts before him. 
  • When adultery has clearly occurred and repentance is absent.
  • When either the bride or groom is already married. Just wanted to clarify that for the fans of "Sister Wives."
  • For me...when I am not available. The truth is, I am most often available and while I may shift things at the last minute to speak at a funeral for a dear saint, I will not shift to accommodate a ceremony that just happens to be in the middle of a much needed vacation or other trip.

Grace Abounds

It should be noted that while we have these items that lead us to say "NO" that it is not a joy to say no to a couple. The hope is that this man and woman in love would be open to honest, heart-felt, biblical conversations with one of our pastors about the gospel, God's design for marriage, and how to honor him. Grace abounds and this must not be ignored. The wedding planning may just be a gospel conversation moment and should not be brushed off. The end result is that at times, "no" is still the answer from the pastor, but it is not to be offered as a legalistic response (there's no joy in being mean) but as a plea for holiness and trusting God.

Be Steadfast, Pastor

Pastor, there are always expectations placed upon you that seem to lie outside the job description. When you say "no" to a church member who has clear expectations for your presence, performance, or approval, you had best have a bigger "yes" ready. We don't say "no" just for the fun of it. The "no" is meant to drive people to a deeper, biblical "yes" and that is part of shepherding well. 

The wise shepherd will lead his sheep, but may have to yell "no" at them at times in order to protect them and guide them to safety and abundance.

Everyone has expectations of everyone else. Look to the Word first and hold fast to your calling. For the church member, do the same and pray for your pastor as he seeks to lead wisely and well. And...give him a break if he says no to officiating your kids' wedding or can't visit your neighbor's aunt in the hospital every week.


Christians, the Presidential Election, and Political Idolatry (Or...What Now That This Election Is Over?)

There are phrases that we say because we know we are supposed to say them.

These words give an appearance of understanding, right thinking, and maturity.

For instance, in an election year such as we have experience, phrases from Christians such as “God is in control” and “God is sovereign” have been stated, tweeted, shared, and expressed loudly. Additionally, there has been much said regarding the need for unity among Christians (especially Christians who actually attend the same church or are part of the same denomination.) While I hold that words matter, sometimes, they are sadly, apparently, just…words. Empty words.

This is proving to be true now in that many of the very same evangelicals who declared for weeks with confidence that God is King of kings, Lord of lords, remains on his throne, is never taken by surprise, and is in total control of this universe he created has somehow been defrauded, sidetracked, left behind, or mistaken.

Words Matter...Sometimes

In other words, “God is sovereign, except in this area of politics…apparently.”

Or maybe, “God is in control…except when things don’t happen the way I want.”

The Longest Tuesday

Last week was Tuesday. I mean it seems that the entire week was Tuesday. Election Day in the United States was supposed to be, as has been the case for years, the first Tuesday of November. Yet, and we all knew this would happen, the votes did not come in for all in a timely manner. There were varied allowances in certain states regarding mail-in ballots that has created a predicted conundrum (and for some a “conspiracy” comparable to what some consider LBJ’s 1948 fraudulent Senate run and the Chicago 1960 voting debacle.) Yet, on Saturday the Associated Press (as they have done since the 1840s) called the race for president for Joe Biden. As President-Elect, Biden has held speeches, press conferences, and put out statements regarding an agenda his administration will do.

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All the while President Trump and his spokespersons are refusing to concede, awaiting for answers regarding some filed lawsuits and questions hovering over vote counts and electoral college numbers.

So, what is the Christian to do?

What can we do?

Perhaps we could check back to some of the statements believers like us were making earlier in the year. Maybe revisit things like “God is in control” and “God is sovereign.”

Maybe.

That would be a good start.

In fact, it would be a great place to remain.

The marriage of evangelicalism and partisan politics has resulted in a strange mutation that actually elevates self while ignoring biblical Christianity. Whether red, blue, or somewhere in between, this is nothing more than idolatry. On one side biblically sound Christians have buddied up to prosperity hucksters and have harmed the church’s witness. On the other, some have willingly partnered with the culture of death and the moral revolutionaries to the elimination of a sound biblical witness. Sadly, churches found their membership divided, some choosing to walk away from their faith family over the rift. I fear we may suffer repercussions to our Christian witness for years.

Yet, knowing that words matter, I desire to lean into the aforementioned phrase that “God is in control” knowing that he was not surprised by the result of the election (or the coming result if anything is to change.) The mission of the church has not changed at all. The Great Commission was not revised. The Great Commandment was not amended. The gospel of grace has not been updated. God is the same yesterday, today, and forever.

As for the idolators in our midst, rather than throw the stones at the easily identified ones who have sacrificed their witness on the altar of political power, I will look in the mirror. I realize that “there, but for the grace of God go I.” For this I confess. In fact, we all should. Whenever we place our trust in anything or anyone other than Christ, regardless how “Christian” it may be wrapped, it is still a form of idolatry.

Thank God he is sovereign, in control, gracious, and holy.

Thank God.