Garth Brooks, Notre Dame, and Your Christmas Service at Church

Last night while the big game for the NFL was broadcast on NBC and Hallmark was showing yet another Christmas movie, a country music superstar came out of self-imposed semi-retirement. The Garth Brooks Stadium Tour has begun and the concert recorded in the rain at Notre Dame Stadium in South Bend, Indiana in October aired on CBS last night. The production quality of Brooks' concert was incredible. He has been known for his live shows since breaking onto the scene over two decades ago. While other country singers would stand behind a microphone in their starched Wranglers while playing guitar and belting out hits (George Strait, Alan Jackson, et. al.) Brooks would wear the wrap-around microphone that he must have either borrowed from Madonna or the Drive-Thru worker at Chick-fil-A, run around the stage or at times, pull a Bon Jovi and fly above the crowd. Brooks is an entertainer for certain.

Whether you like his music or not, there's no denying he has appeal for many. The stadium was packed. It was raining. It was cold. And while I know that post-production can do some pretty amazing things, based on tweets and reports online from those who were in attendance, plus what was seen on television, the crowd LOVED the show.

Photo credit: tncountryfan on Visualhunt / CC BY-NC

So, what does this have to do with anything related to church, Christianity, worship, or anything else spiritual?

While watching last night, I said to my wife "Brooks has the crowd in his hand. He's no evangelist, but he's evangelizing and the crowd is 'amening" their approval." I followed up with "If he asked people to come down front to make a decision, they'd come in droves." This was not a condemnation on crusades or the traditional "come down the aisle" moment in many churches. I was just noting that what we were observing in this very well produced event was something that we have seen in religious settings as well (albeit with fewer people in the crowd.)

My friend and pastor of City Church in Tallahassee, Dean Inserra tweeted as the concert was completing:

 

Dean hit the nail on the head in this comparison.

Some of you reading will be upset that I, a Baptist preacher, may seem to be condoning the message or lifestyle promoted in Brooks' songs. Well, I'm not. However, I do know the words of many of the hits he played. I like some more than others. Yet, you would be hard pressed to find anyone who actually has a radio in their vehicle, an iTunes or Amazon Music account or who has been alive for the past twenty years or so who does not know at least some of the words to "Friends in Low Places." 

Christmas at Church

No I do not recommend singing "Callin' Baton Rouge" at your Christmas Eve service. Yet, I do find some insight from this event that was on television last night. Spurred on by Dean Inserra's tweet, I recommend the following to pastors who are trying to find ways to connect with their communities during this Christmas season.

  1. Plan Well. Every community is different, so know yours. If you don't...you have more issues than Chris Gaines. Presuming you know the people in your community, plan a service that will connect with them and allow them to not only feel welcomed, but encouraged that there is a God who loves them deeply. If your service is planned for church people, you will only connect with church people (yours and those who are members of other churches.) It's easy to plan a church service for church people. Don't.
  2. Preach Clearly. Christmas sermons are sometimes the most difficult for pastors, because we (pastors) all too often try to be really creative and end up missing the point. Jesus is the point. He always is. He always must be. The "birth of Jesus" story is known by many, but don't presume it is rightly known by the crowd in your building. Some view the story of the nativity as little more than than a holiday fairy tale or myth on par with the Rudolph, Frosty, and Grinch stories. (BTW - I like all those stories and even the Charlie Brown one.) BTW - just because it's Christmas, don't leave Jesus as a baby in a manger. Get to the cross. Preach the resurrection. A little Easter at Christmas is needed by all.
  3. Provide the Familiar. Sing songs that people have heard. Is it a sin to sing "Jingle Bells"? I say no. However, sing the carols that glorify the Christ. Don't skip or ignore those. People have heard them. Many know the words. They may just sing along. The words point to Christ. Christ is the point, remember? Sing about him. Worship him with these classics. It's possible. And, as we saw with Brooks' incredible show, you don't even have to have the very best singer in town on the stage leading. You do need to be able to lead people to sing, however. In the age of performance worship and having to present the latest pop-song worship chorus, many in the room are left watching and missing the opportunity to worship with song. Vicarious worship is not the goal. The best worship leaders are the leaders who worship.
  4. Present the Decision. Don't forget to draw the net (that's an evangelism term that refers to giving people the opportunity to respond) and express to all who have attended your special Christmas Eve or seasonal service that God loves them. He sent his son. He wants to know them personally and they can receive something more than a temporal gift wrapped in paper. Life is available. Whether you allow people to respond by calling them down front, offering them a moment to meet with you following the service, giving them a link on your app to click, or a number to text does not matter. There are numerous ways to give people the opportunity to respond. Just don't leave it left undone. Otherwise, you will once again evaluate your service with your staff and say "We had a good crowd, but we're not sure if anyone made a decision and therefore, have no way to follow up." Yep - we've done this way too often.

What you don't need to have an effective Christmas service is the production budget of Garth. Don't be who you're not and don't fret that you don't have unlimited resources for smoke machines, lighting, or other effects. If you have those things, that's fine, but those are not the point when the true focus is clear.

So this Baptist preacher learned something from a country singer with hits about drinking, cheating, dancing, and a false narrative about prayer while performing on stage with a man dressed as a leprechaun at a Catholic university. 

Weird.

________________

Photo credit: tncountryfan on Visualhunt /CC BY-NC


When A Christian Author Apologizes for His Best-Seller

The evangelical church world of the 1990s was transitional and unique. This was the era of huge youth groups which were used as draws for suburban families and the growth of ministries with expansive buildings, events, conferences, and matching t-shirts.

In the era of youth ministry defined by Super Summer, See You at the Pole, Night of Joy, EdgeTV, DiscipleNow Weekends, Fifth Quarters, and True Love Waits rallies came a best-selling book on relationships written by a twenty-one-year-old son of a national home-schooling leader. The book immediately became a best-seller. People like Elisabeth Elliot and Dr. James Dobson endorsed it. Churches were purchasing copies and providing them to students in their youth ministries. All the sudden even the concept of dating someone was considered sinful.

Harris
Joshua Harris' book I Kissed Dating Goodbye was everywhere. Well, at least everywhere in the conservative, evangelical Christian subculture that exists in our nation. I actually have a copy of the book in my office. I have had it since 1997 when serving as Student Pastor at the church here. 

Harris, in retrospect, shares in a TEDx talk...

I was twenty-one. I knew a lot, okay? I should probably mention at this point that I had been home-schooled my whole life and I had only been in one serious relationship at this point.

He goes on to say that there were things in the book that he still believes to be true. It's clear that some were benefited by what he had written. Yet, about two years ago, he discovered that a growing number of commenters on social media and in other areas within the bubble of his church-world expressed not that they were helped, but that they were harmed. 

That's a broad-stroke, but nevertheless, the reality exists.

Harris, a former pastor at an east coast megachurch resigned a few years ago to pursue seminary training. You can Google this to see more of that story, but by his own admission, as a forty-year old pastor, he realized that which had disdained and declared unnecessary (quality seminary training) was something he needed and was being led to pursue. But, that's another story.

The Book Has Been Discontinued

The best-selling book has been in publication since the original release in 1997. However, just over a month ago, Harris declared that he has requested his publisher stop printing the book. The publisher has agreed. 

It's a bold move and has caused a bit of question among those content on living in the subculture. Harris states:

In light of the flaws I now see in I Kissed Dating Goodbye, I think it's best to discontinue its publication, as well other supplemental resources tied to it (this includes the two books I wrote after it whose content is similar.) My publisher, whose encouragement in this process has been deeply meaningful to me, supports this decision and will not reprint the books after the current copies in their inventory are sold.

The Author Apologizes

So, what is wrong with the book? Why has Harris publicly apologized? For what is he apologizing?

He states it best here:

While I stand by my book’s call to sincerely love others, my thinking has changed significantly in the past twenty years. I no longer agree with its central idea that dating should be avoided. I now think dating can be a healthy part of a person developing relationally and learning the qualities that matter most in a partner. I recommend books like Boundaries in Dating by Dr. Henry Cloud and True Love Dates by Debra Fileta, which encourage healthy dating.

There are other weaknesses too: in an effort to set a high standard, the book emphasized practices (not dating, not kissing before marriage) and concepts (giving your heart away) that are not in the Bible. In trying to warn people of the potential pitfalls of dating, it instilled fear for some—fear of making mistakes or having their heart broken. The book also gave some the impression that a certain methodology of relationships would deliver a happy ever-after ending—a great marriage, a great sex life—even though this is not promised by scripture.

Harris' complete statement is found here.

Pendulum Swings

Most people understand the concept of the pendulum swings regarding popular opinion and cultural norms. In one era something becomes popular and people rally around it. In the next, the opposite is true. This occurs politically, culturally, and sociologically.

But should it occur theologically? It has. The liberalism spurred by the age of enlightenment rightly caused great concern. Some responded by swinging far to the other side, past a conservative and literal reading of Scripture to a legalistic base.

The fear now is that some (maybe the children of the legalists) are swinging too far to the other side and embracing a form of tolerance that ignores Scripture and absolute truth. It's always a fear, but then fear is always the motivator for the growth of liberalism and legalism. Maybe these two extremes are not that dissimilar.

Some fear the reaction to Harris' apology will be an increase in unbiblical sexual relationships and a tolerance for ungodly acts. I think those with this fear give more credit to Harris' influence that deserved. It's definitely more than he would claim.

Yet, there is something here in Harris' statement that deserves acknowledgment and kudos. 

The book emphasized practices (not dating, not kissing before marriage) and concepts (giving your heart away) that are not in the Bible. In trying to warn people of the potential pitfalls of dating, it instilled fear for some—fear of making mistakes or having their heart broken.

That statement is the key. When unbiblical models are declared biblical, sin occurs. Fear was the result. A generation of church kids were given good ideas that were not necessarily God ideas, yet were not provided the wisdom of proper discipleship to discern the difference.

Serial dating is not condoned as godly either, so be wise here. Yet, the reality that holy matrimony, though God's plan for many does not eliminate the reality of holy singleness. For some in the church subculture, the message has been clear - if you're not married, there's something wrong with you. Maybe some have held too tightly to Harris' book while abandoning the one that should be read which speaks truth unapologetically and without error (uh...I'm talking about the Bible.) 

I appreciate Harris' candor and honesty. His apology is well received and the journey he has taken to get to this point is worth study. 

For more info and to watch Joshua Harris' documentary click here.

 

 


Somebody's Feelings Will Be Hurt

For those from a certain generation, the term "Growing Pains" brings to mind a 1980s sitcom starring Kirk Cameron and Tracey Gold. The term originally referred to the aches and pains associated with the transition from childhood to adulthood brought on by the onset of puberty. These aches are most often in the legs and while uncomfortable are known to just be the normal process of physical maturation for healthy young people.

When it comes to spiritual maturity, there are growing pains associated with this part of the journey as well. For the past couple of months I have been preaching through Paul's letter to the church at Philippi. Chapters 3 and 4 speak clearly on the expectation that Christians are to mature in their faith. While a child-like faith is to be lauded, a childish faith is to be condemned. It seems that even in the first century, Christians were content on beginning the journey of faith, but as the days, months, and years went by, they found themselves no more mature than at that moment of spiritual rebirth. Paul uses his own experiences as encouragement for others to grow and move forward in faith. This is not an affirmation of what has been deemed "works theology" but the proper expectation of a growing Christian.

I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus. Let those of us who are mature think this way, and if in anything you think otherwise, God will reveal that also to you. Only let us hold true to what we have attained. Philippians 3:14-16 (ESV)

In chapter 4 of the letter, Paul calls out two women in the church. We don't know much about these women other than their names, Euodia and Syntyche. What we do know is that these women used to be friends. They're both Christians. They are both members of the same church. They actually served together along with Clement, with Paul on mission. The tragedy is that these women are now at odds. They are divided and apparently their division is so severe that Paul has heard about it over in Rome while in prison. 

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Photo credit: lundgrenphotography on Visual Hunt / CC BY-NC-ND

While we do not know what they are fighting over, we do know that whatever it is is so ridiculous that it holds nothing positive regarding eternity, Christianity, or the growth of the church. Their inability to reconcile has apparently placed the church in a dangerous position. People are likely taking sides. Those who used to worship together cannot even sit together now. Disruption and division now is known as the characteristics of this church, especially from those outside the church.

Here's what I believe happened. One of these ladies had her feelings hurt by the other, either intentionally or accidentally.

In this case, the division is between two women, but this type of argument and fight is not gender specific. 

A Promise You Can Bank On

As a longtime member of Baptist churches, I can promise you this - if you actually attend and participate in your local church, you WILL get your feelings hurt. Sometimes your feelings are hurt by those on staff. Sometimes they're hurt by other church members. Sometimes they're hurt because someone did something. At other times, it's become someone did not do something.

In the case of the first century, where churches are designated by cities, hurt feelings leading to fights in the church are even more severe than today in America. 

In most areas in the our nation today, there are other options. You know, other churches. I know there are some rural areas where this is not the case, but in our community there are almost as many churches as coffee shops and pharmacies. In the almost twenty-five years here in our community, I have seen hurt feelings dealt with in various ways, but one common way is to just leave church A and go join church B (or C, D, E, etc.) We have seen this revolving door in action for decades. The sad reality is that some church leaders actually view this as growth. Yet, these members soon get their feelings hurt again and end up at the next church promising creative worship experiences, relevant teaching, and incredible children's and youth ministries. In a culture of the easily offended, hurt feelings are more common than afternoon rain showers in Florida.

Yet in the first-century church, there were no spin-offs, splits, new works, or church plants to join down the street. So, what would happen? Well, the same thing that sometimes happens to the "losers" in church fights today. They just would stop attending. They would become names on a roll where a few months later someone would ask "Hey, whatever happened to so-and-so?"

That still occurs and when it does, God is not pleased, the kingdom is not moved forward, the great commandment and commission are forsaken, and immaturity becomes the norm.

Sometimes, the growing pains of being a Christian include learning how to trust God when your feelings get hurt. 

No one wants their feelings hurt. No one wants to feel disenfranchised. No one wants to be ignored, left out, voted down, or deemed a loser in an argument. Yet, these things happen. All the time. It is through these difficult times that God will bring us to a point of reconciliation and hopefully restoration. These are growing pains.

Sometimes we ache because of immature or poor decisions on our part. Sometimes the pain comes from another's decisions or actions. Christ understands that.

So be thankful for growing pains. Take Paul's advice on how to respond and move forward. Paul believed that Euodia and Syntyche would reconcile and that the church would step up to facilitate this. So, there's hope for you as well.

Here's God's antidote for these growing pains.

Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice. Let your reasonableness be known to everyone. The Lord is at hand; do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. Philippians 4:4-8 (ESV)


You're Not Special and God Does Not Need You

The title of this article may sound like one of the harshest statements to make to someone and could be considered mean-spirited, but before you ignore the rest of this posting, read through it and think about what this title means.

Back in 2012, English teacher David McCullough, Jr. became a trending name online and was even featured on numerous television shows related to the commencement speech he gave at Wellesley High School. It's a very good speech and if you have not heard it, it's worth the click to view here. McCullough's address was to a crowd of soon to be high school graduates. My address is hopefully wider.

We live in the era of self. Of course, there has never been an era not focused on self, but it seems that more and more, things are being said, written, sung, and declared that seem to elevate the individual higher and higher. Just look at the self-help books and resources available in bookstores (online and storefront) and libraries. There are so many things focused on self-esteem, self-worth, self-awareness, etc. that it is easy to see how marketers can take advantage of the era to make money. Apparently, many people struggle with so many "self" issues, that if you could just come up with an answer to one, you can bankroll your future and maybe keep your kids out of having to get student loans. 

Interior-of-railway-station-1

To declare that you're not special sounds insulting. Even among Christians. The Christianized version of all the self-focused resources out there end up filling shelves in church libraries (some churches still have those) and even sit on the bedside table of Christians seeking to have better and healthier life experiences here on earth.

But, there's a problem.

You're Not Special

Regardless what your mom told you.

You're not.

Oh, you are unique. Yes, God formed you in your mother's womb. Just like he formed Jeremiah in his mother's womb...which means you're not the first to have been formed uniquely in the womb. So, I would say that means you're not special. Right?

You have unique fingerprints, DNA, life experiences, right? Sure. You're the only you there every has been. (I can almost hear Mr. Rogers say it.) You're like a snowflake (just an example, not meant to be an insult here.) 

But you're not special.

In Heath Thomas and J.D. Greear's commentary on 1 & 2 Samuel, they state:

Contemporary North American society would have us all be Sauls instead of Davids. And for the most part, the church repeats these lies in Christianized forms. Thus we teach people that they are special, unique, like a snowflake. In a [more] profound sense, none of us is all that special. Yes, we are fearfully and wonderfully made in God's image, but we do the Bible a great disservice when we try to show how these truths lead to self-esteem boosting and puffing up our egos. Even the prophet Elijah, the greatest prophet in the Old Testament, was - according to James - "a man with a nature like ours" (James 5:17).1

One more thing...

God Doesn't Need You

That flies in the face of what many Christians have been taught overtly, or at least subtly. This normally occurs in church when a dearth of leaders and volunteers occurs (based on our last leadership team meeting, this only happens on days that end in "y".) Sometimes, it is expressed when there is a budget shortfall or a need for funds (again, all the time in our church and others I know.)

The call to service sounds like "God needs you." You know, if you don't do something right now, all that God had desired and planned and expected will fall apart. It's as if God is up in heaven wringing his hands just hoping you'll join the team. And if you are a Christian, he's really hoping you'll decide to serve in the church, in the ministry of need, or give a bit more in the offering. Come on! He's counting on you!

As for God needing us, it's a flawed perspective. It's an unbiblical treatise. God does not need. He is not needy. He is not lacking. We do not fill a "human-shaped void in his heart" to turn a common sermon illustration upside down.

God does not lack for personnel.

God does not lack funding.

God does not have to deal with a deficit. 

Perhaps this doesn't help you feel special, but the truth is that the gospel is not focused on making us feel special.

God Is Special

There it is. The special One is God alone. We are like those people in the Bible. You know, Abraham, Moses, Joseph, David, Peter, Ruth, Hannah, Nicanor (look him up), and more. They're heroes of the faith. They did some pretty amazing things. Yet, before they became really amazing, it was very clear ... they were all so very ordinary.

or·di·nar·y
ˈôrdnˌerē/
adjective
  1. with no special or distinctive features; normal.
    "he sets out to depict ordinary people"

This is hard to come to grips with for many. Let me encourage you to ignore the false "amazingness" that is often depicted on Instagram and Snapchat from your friends and others you follow. Those stories do little more than puff up the already puffed up and depress the ordinary people just trying to live faithfully. It's a pretty amazing tactic of destruction our enemy uses. 

Also, be careful. It's easy to become a "me-monster" when talking to others. It's our nature to one-up others just to espouse our "specialness." 

If I'm Not Special and God Doesn't Need Me....?

Then what? Right? This is a huge shift from what the culture (and parents and grandparents and coaches and teachers, etc.) tell us. In a world where everyone gets a trophy and everyone is special and unique, this harshly stated reality check is needed. But, be careful or you will miss the greatest thing related to this revelation. 

In our "not so special" world of being very ordinary, the very real and special God actually desires to know you and rescue you from the sin that infects you (and yes, we're all infected with this.) This solely special God loves you so very much and by grace, he invites you to know him and join him. And this invitation can take the ordinary and make it extraordinary, but not of ourselves, but by and through Him alone.

As stated by Thomas and Greear, "Christianity is a large collection of nobodies worshiping a great big Somebody."

Even those who have surrendered and have been redeemed need reminding of this...daily.

You are dearly loved, and you don't deserve it.

You're not special. God is.

God doesn't need you. God wants you.

_____

1Heath Thomas and J.D. Greear, Christ-Centered Exposition Commentary: Exalting Jesus in 1 & 2 Samuel (Nashville, B&H Publishing), 122-3.

 


The Real Results of the Kavanaugh Hearing

Some of you remember Robert Bork. I was a sophomore in college when President Ronald Reagan nominated Judge Bork to fill the vacated US Supreme Court seat of retiring justice Lewis Powell. I remember reading about Judge Bork and observing the process of his nomination and subsequent denial by the Senate as part of a US Government class I was taking that semester. I was intrigued that this man was being opposed in such a strong way by the senators of the opposition party to the President. It was a clear that a political wrestling match was occurring before the American people. Ultimately, Judge Bork was rejected and his name became a verb. From that moment, regardless which US President was serving, when a Supreme Court nominee faced challenging questions and opposition from those on the judiciary committee, the threat of being "Borked" has come up.

Now, another name may become a verb. Judge Brett Kavanaugh has gone from being well known in a small area of the legal and political world to being the lead story on all American news networks in addition to many international ones. His name has been trending on social media for over a week. 

Kavanaugh's Nomination

When US Supreme Court justice Anthony Kennedy announced his retirement earlier this summer, speculation began regarding whom President Trump would nominate. This is the second court seat to be filled in the Trump presidency and while there was clearly opposition to Justice Neal Gorsuch when nominated, he was approved and began serving on the court in April 2017.

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Justice Anthony Kennedy has long been considered the swing vote on the Supreme Court. President Ronald Reagan nominated Justice Kennedy after Robert Bork was "Borked" and when Reagan's second choice, Douglas Ginsburg withdrew his name when it was discovered he has smoked marijuana (boy - how times have changed.)

Kavanaugh's Accusers

For the first few weeks after Trump nominated Brett Kavanaugh the nation was presented with images of the judge and his family with stories of their meeting, public service, and family stories centered around their daughters and sports.

Then an accusation of sexual misconduct and attempted rape appeared. At first, it seemed like an old-fashioned "whisper campaign." The accuser, Dr. Christine Blasey Ford, a professor of psychology at Palo Alto University and research psychologist at the Stanford School of Medicine, claimed that while in high school she attended a party with other students from the area. At that party, one of the students, Brett Kavanaugh, attempted to sexually violate her. 

Once her story was made public, it spread like wildfire. It became the political weapon for the opposition to Brett Kavanaugh's nomination. 

If We Could Get Beyond the Politics

I won't go through all the machinations that have taken place over the past week regarding Dr. Ford's accusations and Judge Kavanaugh's denials. Those stories are provided in depth in various places.

Yet, on Thursday of last week both Dr. Ford and Judge Kavanaugh were given time to present their respective cases and answer questions from the Senate Judiciary Committee. Since this is 2018, the events were televised and livestreamed so that all who wished to be in the room, could be. 

I watched the spectacle on Thursday as did many Americans. I read the trending tweets and updates throughout the day and it became clear that many were not to be swayed in their opinions of either Dr. Ford or Judge Kavanaugh. In fact, some were clearly stating that regardless what may or may not have come from the questioning, their minds were made up.

Interesting. But, that's politics in a divided nation.

These two professionals were placed before the nation to discuss incidents that allegedly had occurred over 35 years ago. The events in question are terrible, traumatic, and not to be ignored nor taken lightly. Suddenly the mystery accuser was more than a blurry two-dimensional image copied from a social media page. At the same time, the smiling father and husband was presented as an accused man trying to clear his name. 

While these two individuals and their families were basically on trial for the nation, political posturing, preparation for future elections, and attempts to win in the "sound-bite" wars by the Senators at the dais. It was nasty. It was disturbing. It was embarrassing.

Who was credible?

Regarding Dr. Ford and Judge Kavanaugh, I agree with Dr. Albert Mohler's take on this from Friday's "The Briefing" podcast:

There are objective criteria, but the judgments that we make about whom we consider to be credible, that turns out to be very subjective. It's subjective when we think about buying a car from an individual. it's subjective when we think about calling someone as pastor of a church. It's subjective when we think about the entire process of courtship and marriage. There are objective realities, but sometimes the most fundamental disposition of the heart is nothing that can be stipulated or measured in objective terms.

That doesn't mean, however, that it is not important that we face these kinds of questions, even running the risk of that kind of subjective interpretation.

Now, what was the interpretation made by the American people? It's going to be virtually impossible to come to know that except in general terms. But even in the immediate aftermath of the hearings, it became very clear that to most keen observers looking fairly at the process, both of these individuals came across as credible.

As I have talked with others, and from the mouths of Dr. Ford and Judge Kavanaugh themselves, I believe that Dr. Ford did face a sexual attack that has scarred her since age 15. I have no idea if it was Brett Kavanaugh. He denies that vehemently. I believe that, under oath, each of these individuals have sought to tell the truth. I only believe that because they do come across as credible and because of the severity of punishment if found to be lying under oath. 

Can There Be Two Truths?

In the postmodern era of truthiness, we often hear of "your truth" and "my truth" and there is an acceptance of this. Yet, there is no such thing as individual truths that contradict. You cannot have your truth where 2+2=4 and then I have my truth where 2+2=8 and both be true. One will be true. The other will not. Or, in many cases, both will be untrue.

So, in the case of the high school party in question, there are two accounts where each individual affirms with 100% accuracy that their version is true. It cannot be. 

Does that mean someone is lying? Well, that's always a possibility. People lie all the time. It's part of the sin nature of humanity and has been documented since the days of Adam (Genesis 3). It could mean that someone is mistaken, unintentionally. Maybe that's my offering of the "benefit of the doubt?"

The Real Results of This Hearing

Regardless how this Supreme Court appointment plays out, I could not help but think of how this spectacle has played out and what this means for people in our communities, our families, and our churches. 

  • The #MeToo movement is real. We've seen the takedown of such notables in society as movie producers, actors, religious leaders, and politicians. This is actually good and has needed to occur. Based on how Dr. Ford has been utilized in this story by political power players, my concern is that women who have been attacked, molested, and traumatized will hear a message that unintentionally come across. That message is that their accounts are not valid and are best kept quiet. Sure, there are cases where women (and men) make up stories to draw attention to themselves. I'm not saying Dr. Ford has done so. Her testimony was credible. There's no reason to think that she had not experienced such an attack. 
  • An accusation is all it takes to take out someone. This is an unfortunate result of the fast-growing #MeToo movement. In this moment, an accusation of misconduct can and has resulted in men (mostly, but women as well) being judged in the court of public opinion, regardless of verifiable proof of wrong actions. In some cases, jobs have been lost, positions of influence abandoned, and a public trust forsaken.
  • Politics is dirty. It always has been, but these hearings have presented a posturing for future power along with a "civil" debate from false friends who are at times more concerned with holding onto their positions of influence rather than seeking what is best for the nation (regardless how many times they state that they are doing what they're doing for the good of the nation.) Though this is a generalized statement and it is easy to pick on politicians at times, there were and are some on the dais and serving in our state and nation who rise above the rest. The discerning eye and ear can find the outliers.
  • There is no condemnation for those in Christ (Romans 8:1) but there are consequences. If you were to have watched the hearings and could possibly set aside the sexual misconduct accusations (you cannot, but for the sake of this point, work with me here) you see a man who has had a thriving and successful career. For over 30 years in public life, he has been lauded and affirmed. He has received many accolades and awards. By all accounts, he has been a model husband, father, and citizen. But, then his teenage self is presented. His yearbook photo is presented for all to see with a paragraph of personal account next to it. This is in his own words, printed in his high school yearbook. There are inside jokes, likely innuendo, and references to what many would say are "typical American high school antics" from the 1980s. He testified that he drank beer as a teenager and that he and his friends would attend parties. He used language back in high school that would be inappropriate to put on this blog post (by his own admission) and was defending his honor while his 18-year-old self stared back at him in a blown up photo from his yearbook. I could not help but think how each of the Senators questioning him were praying that no one dug up their old yearbooks or brought stories to the forefront of things they had done decades prior. Yet, that's not the point. The point is that the sins of the past remain sins of the past. While forgiveness is complete in Christ and there is no condemnation for us in Christ Jesus, there is still this reality that consequences this side of heaven remain. As an 18-year-old I didn't get that. In fact, I likely didn't care. As a 50-year-old, now sounding like the old guy imparting words of wisdom to the younger generation, now more than ever the message is to live holy. The culture celebrates youth and hands out permission to misbehave and "sow one's wild oats" or whatever the modern term may be, but sin remains sin and there are always consequences. So, whether or not Kavanaugh did what Dr. Ford has accused him of in this case does not eliminate the reality that he is now defending the acts of his 18-year-old self in areas that likely are indefensible (maybe personally excusable or justifiable, but that's different.)
  • The collateral damage is severe. In each individual's case (Dr. Ford and Judge Kavanaugh) there are others who are hurt due to the alleged actions and the subsequent televised accounts. I'm not speaking of the public in general, but of family members, dear friends, and even children. 
  • Half the nation will be happy. The other half will be angry. Whether Judge Kavanaugh becomes Justice Kavanaugh or not, there will be no unity in our nation. We really didn't expect there to be anyway, but this story will remain in the annals of our nation for decades to come. If we're still talking about Robert Bork and Justice Clarence Thomas based on their appointment hearings, rest assured that people will be talking about Kavanaugh for years to come.

The Church in the #MeToo Era

The church cannot remain silent on issues of sexual misconduct and morality. In an age where Catholic bishops have become the sick punchlines for inappropriate jokes regarding sexual abuse of children, the world sees all churches and Christians in the same vein. This is not unlike in the past, but regarding sexual misconduct (i.e. rape, sexual abuse, ignoring "no", adultery, etc.) the church often remains on the sideline refusing to enter the fray. Perhaps this is due to the inability to talk biblically on subjects without devolving into political banter? Maybe it is fear-based, knowing that stories within the local church that have been ignored will come to light? Regardless, to ignore this darkness in our world is to essentially refuse to shine light where it's needed. <TWEET THIS>

Regarding Dr. Ford and Judge Kavanaugh - these people need God's people praying for them. The church must remove the robe of political partisanship and pray for these two image-bearers of Christ. Pray for them individually and for their families. In the meantime, trust God that ultimately, truth will set us all free.


Nothing's Going As Planned...That's Normal

I began preaching through Paul's letter to the church at Philippi in September. The overarching theme of this incredible, God-breathed book is joy. I knew this. I have read the book prior (a few times) and it should come as no surprise that the theme of the book is the same it always has been. In case you didn't know, there is no revision to the book - it's always been about joy. Nevertheless, as I read through this book now, studying it for personal edification in addition to seeking God's lead in preaching through it, I am struck by the fact that joy sometimes seems so elusive in my life.

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Now, you may have no problem with your joy quotient. You may be that person who always sees the glass half-full. Maybe your glass is overflowing (sounds like Psalm 23) and you have this holy perspective that is right and wonderful. I envy you. Wait...that's probably a sin. Hmmm...I'm excited for you and want to be like that. There, that's better.

God is so very good and gracious, and as just since beginning this series, I am awestruck at how joy remains my choice.

Yep - it's on me.

Joy is not something that just happens. It's not what we drift toward. Joy is intentional. It's a choice. It's a response, not to circumstances, but to God. And joy is not defined as a giddy happiness that pretends everything is okay. That's more of a Pollyanna perspective. Joy is a contentedness that keeps us focused on the one who is truly in control.

Paul, while writing this letter to a church that he dearly loved should have been on their prayer list (he probably was) but he makes it known that they are on his prayer list. He's praying for them, for his friends, his brothers and sisters in Christ, this new church that he helped launch and was instrumental in growing and leading...all while he is in prison. It's likely a prison in Rome. Some have declared that it may have been more like house arrest, as if that lessens the severity of what he is experiencing. Paul is chained to a guard. He is imprisoned. His freedoms are gone. His rights...well, what rights? This was the first century, not America so rights are not highly regarded.

This morning as I was reading from Paul David Tripp's excellent devotional book New Morning Mercies, I could not help but see how God was once more getting my attention on a subject that apparently I need constant reminding of.

Some thoughts from Tripp...

What captures your mind controls your thoughts and dominates the desires of your heart.

That which dominates your meditation shapes the way you view yourself, life, and God, and your view of those things shapes the choices you make and the actions you take.

It is not biblical faith to try to convince yourself that things are better than they actually are. It is not biblical faith to work to make yourself feel good about what is not good. Biblical faith looks reality in the face and does not flinch.

On the other hand, there is a crucial difference between facing hard realities and allowing those realities to dominate the meditation of your heart (see God's counsel to Joshua, Josh 1:1-9). Here's what biblical faith does: it examines reality, but it makes the Lord its meditation. It is only when you look at life through the window of the glory of the One who has been the source of your meditation that you see reality accurately. The more you meditate on your problems, the bigger and more insurmountable they seem to be. Meditating on God in the midst of your trouble reminds you once again that the God to whom grace has connected you is magnificent in his grandeur and glory. He is infinitely greater than any problem you could ever experience. Then your responses are shaped by his glory and not by the seeming size of your problems.1

Have you ever read a Scripture passage or devotional and thought "Wow! It's like that was written just for me." Yeah, me too. That's what this was like and as I continue to pray and study the book of Philippians I am reminded that my joy is not contingent on my circumstances. This is because so often things do not go as planned (by me.) Paul (the Bible guy, not Tripp in this case) didn't plan to go to prison, I am sure. He didn't plan to be shipwrecked, run out of town, stoned, or even have that "thorn in the flesh" but he did. And despite all that, he had a a faith, a biblical faith as Tripp calls it, that gave him proper perspective. 

That's the Christian life. That's normal.

It doesn't necessarily fill up stadiums or sell books, but it does allow for a joy that is indescribable and a lasting faith.

So choose joy today (and tomorrow and the next day). It's your choice. 

______________

        1Paul David Tripp, New Morning Mercies: A Daily Gospel Devotional (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books, 2014). September 25.

 


The Blessing of Qualified Deacons Who Serve

It is the time of year once more in our church where the members will prayerfully nominate biblically qualified, faithful men to serve in the office of deacon. We recognize two offices within the church - pastors (elders) and deacons. 

It is at this time of the year I sometimes feel like Bill Murray in the movie "Groundhog Day." We have been nominating deacons to serve in our church for decades. This is something that has occurred every single year that I have been here (the past 25 years) and for many years prior. Yet, every year the same questions come up regarding qualifications, expectations, and responsibilities of the men who serve.

Each year, the answers remain the same. At least the core answers do, for those are based on the only passage in Scripture where qualifications of deacons is given (1 Timothy 3.)

So, as we prepare for this time once more, we must go back to Scripture to ensure we understand what is required for men who answer this high calling for the lowly position.

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Often when looking at the qualifications for deacons, we begin reading in verse 8 of chapter 3 while ignoring the qualifications for pastors (elders) listed in the first portion of the chapter. While these are two distinct offices, there is a connecting phrase in verse 8 that leads the reader to see that which is required of pastors is true for deacons as well. That phrase is "Deacons likewise must be..."

While the offices of pastor/elder and deacon have been affirmed in the modern church, the roles of the offices have often been misunderstood, if not fully modified. Based on the New Testament, the pastor/elders are the primary spiritual leaders of the local church. Pastors are to teach or preach the Word and shepherd the souls of those under their care (Eph. 4:11; 1 Tim. 3:2; 5:17; Titus 1:9; Heb. 13:17).

Deacons are to serve. The church needs deacons to offer practical, logistical support and service to the pastors and the church body so that the pastors may focus on the study of the Word of God and prayer. 

The Similarities of Offices

It is clear as one reads through the passage that character counts. Men who serve as pastors and men who serve as deacons are held to high standards of character. They are to be proven, Christian men who are dignified, not double-tongued, not addicted to much wine, not greedy, holding to sound faith and doctrine, and blameless. They are expected to lead their families well and, if married, to have wives who are above reproach as well. Clearly, if a moral character qualification is listed for elders, it is expected of deacons as well. 

The Differences of Offices

The character qualifications are similar, but the roles and expectations of the offices do differ in some significant ways. The most distinguishing difference in the passage is found in 1 Timothy 3:2 where pastors are required to be "apt to teach." 

This has caused confusion for some in that some churches have required their deacons to be serving in a teaching capacity in the church. What deacons are called to do is "hold" to the faith (1 Tim. 3:9).  The office requirement is clear on holding strongly to the doctrines and mysteries of the faith. The passage clearly suggest that deacons do not have an official teaching role in the church.

Nevertheless, while a deacon may not actually be leading a small group or Bible study in the church, he must have the capacity to answer questions regarding biblical truth and doctrine. He must be able to share this truth with others. He should also be willing to serve where needed in the local church...and that may be in a teaching capacity (for various age groups.) 

Character & Doctrine Matters

The deacon is an office of necessity so that the members of the church are served well. The pastor ensures they are taught well. God has positioned these offices in his church for his glory and the good of the church. 

So, as the questions come, the answers remain consistent. There are interpretative variances on some of the qualifications. For example, while "husband of one wife" literally means "a one-woman man" some churches have read this to mean that a divorced man is not qualified for the office (this is our church's understanding.) Other churches have held this to mean a man should be married to only one woman at a time, which was an issue in the day it was written and will likely be again as marriage laws and redefinitions of acceptable relations continue to occur. Some hold that if a man became a believer after a remarriage, he qualifies. 

Our church also has chosen to refrain from the drinking of alcoholic beverages for all pastors and deacons. While we concur that drinking alcoholic beverages is not a sin, we acknowledge that in our culture the command to ensure we not be stumbling blocks to newer believers has led to the continuation of this guideline. 

While the "Groundhog Day" feeling continues, there are things that come up during this season of "deacon nomination" that causes me to reevaluate our guidelines, processes, and roles in our church.

Things We Need To Reconsider

  • GET RID OF THE TERM LIMIT - We have "inactive deacons" and I keep looking in Scripture to see where that is validated. Our practice, as with many legacy churches, is to call a man to serve for a "term" as a deacon. In our case, it's for three years.  It seems to me the concept of "inactive" is wrong. Now, there are cases where a man should step down from service. Obviously, the abandonment of solid doctrine, immorality, divisiveness, or opposition to pastors (who are leading biblically) would be reasons for a removal from office. However, a year off after three years on seems to be nothing more than a passive way to remove men from office without having to address personality conflicts or more importantly, issues such as those listed above.
  • STOP NOMINATING THE UNQUALIFIED - The process of nomination is challenging. Yet, there are men nominated by well-meaning church members each year who are not qualified for the office. 
  • STOP TRYING TO FILL A QUOTA - We have abandoned this, but many churches still are focused on having the right number of men as deacons a required by their by-laws. The church is better off having the right men, even if it's a smaller number, than a large group of men who do not qualify.
  • SELECT QUALIFIED DEACONS WHO ALREADY SERVE IN THE CHURCH - Calling a man who does nothing in the church with the hopes he will once he is called as a deacon is akin to giving a person who never attends small group a teaching position in hopes that he/she will start attending regularly. It's futile. It's wrong. It lowers the bar. 
  • CALL TO REPENTANCE THOSE THOSE WHO HAVE SERVED, BUT WON'T NOW - There are some who do not serve actively due to health or serious familial reasons. Then there are the men who refuse to serve for reasons that are less than godly. A deacon who has served in the past but won't currently due to differences with pastoral leadership, anger, laziness, or simply a desire to not serve within the church, must be called to repentance. Why? Because this is sin. If the man has disqualified himself from the office, that too must be addressed. However, it seems that at times, certain men are begged by other church members to serve again as they did prior to their refusal to be "active" once more, but to do so without calling them to repentance is to affirm the sin keeping them out of the office. 

The Bible charges pastors with the tasks of teaching and leading the church. The deacons role is more service-oriented. By handling such issues within the church, the pastors are freed up to focus on shepherding the spiritual needs of the church. Deacons are a blessing. They honor God through their service to him and his church.


Why I Quit Men's Ministry

About fifteen years ago I was reading one of the popular men’s books available and selling well in Christian bookstores at the time. I was challenged and encouraged and even traveled out west to attend a retreat hosted by the author. At that point in my life, I needed this message and God used it to affirm his calling upon my life.

Prior to that, like many Christian men, I read a few books about living as a godly man that had become popular.  This was during the growth of the men’s ministry movement that was grew due to ministries like Promise Keepers and other conference events. The focus on biblical manhood was needed then. It still is. Pastors like Robert Lewis and his Men’s Fraternity material proved very valuable. I began leading Men’s Fraternity groups at our church and launched a men’s ministry called “Battle Ready” through our church. This led to retreats, outings, conferences, and small group studies over the years.

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One of the annual highlights for our men was Battle Ready Weekend. We would gather in Tennessee for three days of solid, no-holds-barred biblical teaching, personal reflection, along with some fun experiences like paintball, white water rafting, zip lines, and more.

The themes of the teachings were the same every year. In fact, most of the biblically-based books and resources for men’s ministry tend to be similar. There’s a focus on living out one’s identity in Christ, refusing to be passive, delving into spiritual wounds, being a godly husband, and leaving a legacy as a godly father.

I have fond memories of these days. The gospel was proclaimed. Biblical teaching on being the man God intends was offered. Wives started signing their husbands up stating the benefits to their marriages were clear. Children had conversations that previously had gone left unsaid.

We began inviting our sons to join us on these weekends. The shift was needed and those with sons were provided opportunity to speak into their lives in ways that they often desired, but were unable or unwilling to do so. In retrospect, the moments between fathers and sons proved to be powerful and impactful.

Then things began to shift.

Preparing for the weekend trips became an administrative headache. I was the keynote speaker, but also the schedule developer, the rooming reservationist, the event planner, and over every little detail of the weekend events. This was due to my own immaturity and weaknesses in leadership. I was “leading” but not leading well. I had created a retreat for me and ended up inviting other guys along. It was good. It was not best.

Then, I invited my son. This became the father-son weekend I desired. Those things I had challenged other fathers to do was now to be modeled by me – the pastor, the men’s ministry leader, the founder of Battle Ready.

My son was in elementary school. He would soon be in junior high and would attend with me annually until his senior year in high school.

We did have some good times. There were a couple of years when he and I would leave early and arrive at the campground a few days before the bus full of friends from church arrived. It was just the two of us. I tried to make it a memorable week. Maybe I was trying to create something that I felt was missing in our lives? Perhaps I was trying to connect with him before it was too late. Hindsight is 20/20, but it also leads me to over analyze in ways that are often not helpful. So there's that.

We came home and my wife asked “How was your time together?” I said “Okay. It was good.”

I meant it. Truly. But she was expecting something profound to happen. When I failed to reveal the “moment” that connected us well, she seemed disappointed. In truth, I was too.

There was a gap. It wasn’t my son’s fault at that time. I really don’t think it was mine either. I’m not sure what the problem was. Well, looking back, it was something I had created with my overly busy schedule likely (I’ve been told that numerous times) and was trying to make up for lost time.

Words from Robert Lewis would resonate with me. He would say “An involved dad is not a strategic dad.” Boom. That was me. I was definitely involved. I coached his team. Went to school events (I did miss that one story time in elementary school that leaves a scar in our story) sponsored him and traveled with him on school field trips, would adjust my schedule to his, and took him with me on occasion when I could. But…that wasn’t necessarily strategic.

Then something happened.

THE WORST MOMENT IN MY LIFE (SO FAR)

Up to this point, it would be categorized as the worst moment in my life. For my son, it wasn’t good either.

There was a divide between us. He was in high school.

He made choices that fell outside our (my wife and I) understanding of biblical fidelity. There were many things that we never saw coming. Our family was under spiritual attack. A trap was sprung. It was an incredibly effective one as well. We were in a battle and while it manifested as being between my son and I at times, the true battle was deeper, more sinister, and spiritual.

Many in our community and even some in our church didn’t (and do not) understand this. I’ve discovered there is a two-dimensional narrative that some believe to be true. Based on the portions of our story known by some, opinions were developed. Judgments were made. Depending on who you talk with, varying characters in this storyline were the wrong ones and the bad guys. That’s always the case. Since living through this journey I’ve been convicted of times when I have made the same false judgments on others based simply on one version of a story, or perhaps only what I have observed.

I have learned. I hope I now know better. Looking back, confirmation has been given by God regarding our rightness to stand firmly on his Word and truth. Sin does not live in grey areas and of that we have been affirmed. We also have this amazing ability to see how we could have responded better (not by affirming sin) at times. That remains a continual struggle, since as you may know our story continues (just as everyone reading this is living in a continual story.)

Our son eventually graduated from high school. He went to university and excelled. He continues in graduate studies and I have no doubt that he will continue to do well. He may actually be the most intelligent young man I have ever met. He is gifted and talented. He is also perhaps the best friend an individual could have.

Yet, the fellowship between father and son is absent. I don’t say those words lightly or with animosity. It’s just a reality. It’s not a finality, but today it remains.

MEN'S EVENTS

I continued to plan men’s weekends even after my son went away to school and was beyond wanting (or pretending to want) to attend. I remember the last one I planned. It was in eastern Tennessee at Doe River Gorge. This is a beautiful location with many amenities. The cabins are perfect. I stayed in an old train caboose that had been converted into a hotel-type room. I had other men teaching sessions so it was not all on me. We had a good group attend and it was not unlike previous gatherings.

But…something was wrong.

I was tired. I was no longer being renewed through these weekends. I was burning out. And I felt like a hypocrite.

I was teaching the Word and as our men know, was always pretty transparent in my sessions. I would share weaknesses and mistakes and where I saw my needs for grace. Yet, in this story as a father, I felt like a failure. I was seeking to model the “how to” of being a godly husband and father and lo and behold, there was this monkey wrench thrown into the machinery.

“Where’s your son?” was asked by a few of the men. It was asked by some whom I thought knew what had happening and the journey we were on. However, these are men. I’m guilty as well. Sometimes we just don’t catch the obvious or hear the details.

Battle Ready Weekend ended and I began my drive home. I didn’t ride the bus. I drove alone. I arrived early to Tennessee and spent three days alone in prayer and just trying to gather my thoughts or anything else that would help. I actually found myself ready to end my weekend and head home about a day before all the men arrived. NOTE – if you want to leave before everyone arrives, that’s not a good sign.

Overall the weekend went well.

But, I was done.

I just could not do it again.

That was 2015.

I am still way too busy it seems. While things aren’t exactly as I desire them to be, God has done a work upon and within me. I went back to school and am almost finished. I’m older and hopefully a bit wiser. The crisis of life pushed me even deeper into God’s Word. I still have some men’s ministry books. Actually I have a shelf full of them, but have found greater insight into living for Christ directly from the Bible rather than from books about the Bible. Go figure. As a pastor, you’d think this would be obvious.

I still read these books and others. I have read biographies of great men of the faith. I have discovered once more what I have already known. The doubts and fears I have faced, the inadequacies that seem to be more and more obvious, the spiritual attacks, and more are not unique to my story. The perfect pastor’s family does not exist. It’s a façade. There is only one who is perfect, and His perfection is my strength. His grace is my sufficiency.

BACK AT IT

I’m not hosting another men’s weekend. We may never do those again like we did in the past. In fact, most of the men who were key to making it happen have left the church or moved elsewhere. Some have clearly followed God’s lead elsewhere to serve. Others have just been taken out of the story through moral failure or the abandonment of biblical truth. For those I grieve.

While I’m not hosting, I have agreed to speak at a men’s weekend. A portion of our annual attendees lived in North Carolina and under the leadership of my friend Travis Bowman, Battle Ready NC was created. I am so excited for what he has been able to do through this ministry. This year I will be speaking at the opening session for the men attending. It takes time to get from Florida to North Carolina. I will once again take a long drive alone for prayer and reflection. Yet, this time I believe God is calling me to do this for His glory and for the good of the men in attendance. Maybe it’s for the good of my family as well. I hope so.

I quit men’s ministry. Maybe I don’t need “men’s ministry” but I know what I do need, and I know the men in our church and community need this too. I need to walk humbly with God as a man with a strong faith, a biblical worldview, with gospel-soundness and a graceful love of others.

It’s kind of funny, in a sick way. I was telling men to be “Battle Ready” and was blindsided by the enemy who proved I was not. Yet in my weakness He is strong and where I have no capacity to be battle ready, I know he is.

The Lord will fight for you, and you have only to be silent. Exodus 14:14 (ESV) [1]

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[1] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2016). (Ex 14:14). Wheaton: Standard Bible Society.


The Private-Public Divide May Be Killing Your Church

In America, the debate has raged for decades over the separation of church and state. I know that phrase is not in the US Constitution and it has become a tool for divisiveness and used out of sorts in many ways. However, this post is not about the separation (or presumed separation) of the church and state. This is about the private-public divide within the church or better yet within individual Christians.

Public Life

Speaking of local church members specifically, each of us has a public life, a persona that is known by others in the community, at work, or school. This may be due to volunteering at the elementary school, coaching youth soccer, serving on the homeowner association, being in the Rotary, or numerous other options.

These roles are not bad. In fact, they're wonderful. Christians should be seen and known in these venues throughout the community. 

Private Life

This is where it gets really personal. This is the life within our family, hopefully our church, alongside our friends and loved ones, etc. This is where our faith resides, since it is a personal walk with Christ. This is where viewpoints, convictions, struggles, and even sins live. They're private.

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Photo credit: pea. on Visual Hunt / CC BY-NC-ND

Encouragement vs. Enablement

Bishop Lesslie Newbigin, educated at Cambridge and commissioned for missionary service by the Church of Scotland in 1936 to India for the following four decades had written much about what is now termed missional living and church/community engagement. When he returned from India to England in 1974 he wrote numerous articles and books over the subsequent two decades. The focus of his writing dealt with the question of how an authentic encounter between the gospel and western culture could take place.

He surmised that one of the fundamental issues plaguing modern western culture was the separation of public and private domains of life. Corresponding with this was the separation of values.1 He argues that this concept is a holdover from the age of the Enlightenment and is rooted in classical Greek thought. I have read some of what he has asserted and it makes much sense. Yet, I won't get into that here.

This very western concept of segmented lives is cultural and common. In fact, it is considered normal. The problem is that this normal life often leads to Christians having a "church life" and a, well, "real life" for lack of a better term.

The problem in the church is that while church leaders and pastors continue to encourage church members to "be light in dark places" and engage their world with the message of the gospel (rightly so, by the way), our systems of ministry often enable the continued separation from the world, thus creating a private-public dichotomy.

While we encourage missional living, we often enable sequestered huddling.

There is no easy remedy to this. We are pushing not only against human nature, but also centuries of cultural norms. 

The private-public divide often leads to a Kingdom-church divide. While we desire to see God's Kingdom grow and we know the "fields are white unto harvest" sometimes the church practices ministry that reveals a desire to see God's Kingdom within the church walls, while ignoring the commission to go, or better yet to live missionally as we go. The relationship between the kingdom and church must be sorted. Otherwise, churches will continue practicing a church-centered Christianity that ultimately remains detrimental to the kingdom of God.2

Even Within the Church Privacy Is Expected

While the evangelistic, missional living aspect of the Christian life is often negatively affected by the prominence of the private-public dichotomy, an equally dangerous aspect is the fear that fuels superficiality among church family members.

Scripture references unity in the body of Christ numerous times. It is not just a western, cultural aspect that celebrates guarded living. Fear of trust and often a desire to not let others in keeps many relationships, even among brothers and sisters at places that not only ignores unity, but may fuel division.

Paul David Tripp stated this reality so well in his devotional book New Morning Mercies...

Your walk with God is designed by God to be a community project. Anonymous, consumerist, isolated, independent, self-sufficient, "Jesus and me" Christianity is a distant an distorted facsimile of the faith of the New Testament. You and I simply were not created (Gen 2:18) or re-created in Jesus Christ (1 Cor 2:14) to live all by ourselves. The biblical word pictures of temple (stones joined together to be a place where God dwells) and body (each member dependent on the function of the other) decimate any idea that healthy Christianity can live outside essential community.

Yet many, many believers live their lives with a huge separation between their public church personas and the details of their private existence. We are skilled at brief, nonpersonal conversations about the weather, sports, and politics. We are learned at giving nonanswers or spiritually platitudinous answers to people's questions. We live in long-term networks of terminally casual relationships. No one really knows us beneath the well-crafted public display, and because they don't know us, they cannot minister to us, because no one can minister to that which he does not know.3

While more programs, emphases, and challenges are developed to "get people out of the church building and into the field" we see that perhaps the first hurdle is a barrier we have erected, and continue to add bricks upon, that separates our private lives from our public ones (even within the church.) 

Once we remove these sinful barriers through repentance and dangerous openness, the church may grow healthy and recognize that its members who already are engaged in life outside the church structure can also remove the private-public barriers there as well. This may just result in the largest engaged mission force the church has ever experienced. Christians will realize they are validated by God to live holy and wholly for Him privately and publicly. 

In other words, as Christians continue coaching youth soccer (not creating a church version of it), serving on homeowners associations, volunteering at schools, spending time at Rotary meetings, etc., their Christianity is not practically shoved to the back burner. They are freed to live missionally, engaging their communities for the sake of the Gospel. 

Dangerous, perhaps, but worth it.

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1Lesslie Newbigin, Foolishness to the Greeks: The Gospel and Western Culture (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1986), 14.

2Reggie McNeal, Kingdom Come: Why We Must Give Up Our Obsession with Fixing the Church – and What We Should Do Instead (Carol Stream, IL: Tyndale Momentum, 2015), 62.

3Paul David Tripp, New Morning Mercies (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2014), July 12 devotion.


Should You Tell Your Pastor When You're Leaving the Church?

The question in the title of this article came up in a lecture today by one of my professors at seminary. However, he just mentioned it in passing as he was speaking about churches and covenant membership. His point really had nothing to do with the need or responsibility of church members to communicate with their pastor regarding God's calling to move elsewhere, yet, it was mentioned. It caused me to think about this more deeply.

Any pastor who has stayed at one local church for any length of time (let's just say, five years or more) knows of the inevitable church member exodus that occurs at times (hopefully not all at once.) Members choose to leave the church for various reasons. Sometimes, these reasons are biblical, godly, and right. Sometimes...well, they fall in another category.

Does God Call Church Members to Leave?

The answer to the above question is "absolutely." God often calls his children to places of service in other churches. We have seen this in our church as individuals or families have moved to help launch new church plants, help revitalize dying churches, join a community church where they live and work, and even to join a church near their home following a work transfer or relocation.

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However, God sometimes gets blamed for church transitions that have little to do with his calling. This may be due to building frustration within the church body, personal embarrassment, disunity, disappointment regarding certain ministries, not feeling one's needs are met, not being fed spiritually, or just a desire for change for the sake of change.

When It's Right to Leave

Yes, there are times when leadership in the local church goes off course doctrinally and biblical fidelity has been forsaken. Sometimes leaders have been revealed as unrepentantly immoral. When there is no shifting or righting of these wrongs, I believe God does release his sheep at times to a new under shepherd (pastor) and flock (church.)

The reasons people leave the local church are as unique as the individuals who make up the local church. Sometimes, unrepentant, found sin becomes the catalyst for the pending good-bye. Paul's address to the Corinthian church addresses this, so it's not just a modern issue.

Things to Think Through Before Good-Bye

As I think through the process of seeing church members leave, much comes to mind. At this point, here are some things I've gleaned regarding this inevitable reality:

  • God calls His children to serve where He wants them, without seeking their vote for approval (this goes for pastors and church members.)
  • There is no perfect church. If you find it, don't join it. You'll ruin it's perfect record.
  • There is no perfect pastor. Believe me, they're as flawed as anyone and need much grace and mercy.
  • Your pastors are not omniscient. They do not know what you're feeling unless you tell them. Yet, the way you tell them may not be heard if done without grace.
  • Church is supposed to be family. It grieves me when new members never fully engage or become part of the family story. It also grieves me when family members seemingly disappear, or walk away angry.
  • Disunity is easy. In church. In family. In life.
  • Changing churches in search of the perfect youth ministry, children's ministry, men's ministry, women's ministry, missions ministry, coffee, music, etc. will leave you always on the move.
  • Abandonment of the gospel and ignoring biblical truth, doctrine, and orthodoxy by pastors and church leaders disqualifies them from leadership. If they refuse to repent, God will likely release you from that fellowship (unless he wishes to use you for a revival of biblical fidelity in that house.)
  • Seeking a church that matches your current political ideology will likely leave you with theological gaps in your life.
  • You may not be remembered for how you came into the church, but you will be remembered how you leave it, if done so with vitriol and anger. (from Carey Nieuwhof.)
  • "I'm not being fed" may be the most overused reason excuse given. Take my advice, don't say it. If it's true, it's perhaps the most non-constructive thing you can say. On the other hand, it may just reveal that you desire being spoon-fed biblical milk rather than served spiritual meat, complete with your own knife and fork. 

Everyone Eventually Leaves 

This is truth. There is no one who remains for eternity as a member of their local church. You will either leave your church because you have been relocated due to work, school, or circumstance, because you are called by God to serve Him elsewhere, because you just desire a new church for whatever reason, or because you have died. 

Thabiti Anyabwile wrote an article a number of years ago titled "5 Things to Do Before Leaving Your Church." The five things are:

  1. Share Your Thinking/Reasoning with the Leaders
  2. Resolve Any Outstanding Conflicts
  3. Express Your Appreciation for the Church's Ministry in Your Life
  4. Say "Goodbye" to Friends and Family
  5. Be Honest with Yourself about Your Own Efforts, Motives, and Failings

These are just the points. I recommend you read the entire article available at The Gospel Coalition here. Remember, the church is family ... and family life is not easy.

"Parting is such sweet sorrow." - William Shakespeare