Freedom and Dependence

Independence Day in America is a time for the red, white, and blue apparel to arrive, complete with vintage Old Navy t-shirts and clothing that looks like it was made from a flag (BTW - according to extensive research ... a five-second search on Google ... it is not illegal to wear clothing that has stars and stripes on it, but it is not appropriate to wear clothing made from an actual flag. There you go.) However if you do wear your 4th of July inspired, patriotic shirt, don't be like this grandma featured on Twitter who thought she was honoring America by wearing this shirt for the past twenty-five years on the 4th, but apparently was actually wearing a shirt that looked like the Panamanian flag.

 

 

This day is often a time to celebrate our freedoms as Americans with family get-togethers, cookouts, ball games, parades, and of course fireworks.

The United States is far from perfect, but even with our imperfections and challenges, we find ourselves blessed in ways others throughout history and in other parts of the world today long for. Our freedoms, however are often taken for granted. Friends who grew up in other parts of the world, under heavy oppression and great difficulty, remind me regularly how much we presume regarding personal freedoms. 

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Yet, as stated earlier, we still have far to go. Many in our own nation face oppression and injustices in ways that others cannot imagine. These are due to a variety of circumstances.

This past weekend many Christians were debating aloud and online about the veracity of holding patriotic services in their churches on Sunday. This debate comes every year at this time. What had been viewed as normative for evangelical churches in past decades (the shelving of hymns and sacred songs for patriotic anthems, coupled with overtly America-themed testimonies and messages) now causes many to wonder. From my perspective, anything that is allowed to supersede Christ and the gospel in a service of worship runs the risk at best of passively confusing attenders regarding the focus of worship. Therefore, while we may at times add a song or two speaking of God's blessings upon us, we will not intentionally shift our focus from Christ by allowing anything (or anyone) stand in his place. 

Ultimately, if your worship service looks just like the community Independence Day rally, you may be doing it wrong.

Believe me ... I know how to do things wrong. I have much practice at it.

Nevertheless, to ignore that which God has blessed us with would be insulting, in my opinion. So for the freedoms this experiment of a republic has allowed for us, continues to allow us, and hopefully will offer in the future, we thank God. 

Freedom

I'm reminded of a deeper freedom, however, than those listed in the Bill of Rights. This freedom is expressed throughout the New Testament, but most clearly in Galatians 5. 

For freedom Christ has set us free; stand firm therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery. Galatians 5:1 (ESV)

It sounds obvious. Almost, too simple. It is for freedom we have been set free. Of course. Yet, the freedom we have in Christ is often ignored as the old nature continues to rise up within us, leaving us living as slaves to sin. Sin that has already been defeated. Sin that has already been covered.

Dependence

As Americans we often speak with pride of our independence. That's what the holiday we're celebrating this week focuses upon. I love this holiday. Yet, as Christians sometimes the prideful statements of individual independence overwhelm the fact that as free children of God we are not independent, but fully dependent. Our dependence on Christ is what gives us freedom. 

While we may tout our rights in this nation, we must remember that we have sacrificed our individual rights on the altar in order to live as fully-devoted disciples of Jesus Christ. It is in this dependence upon God we are free indeed.

That is why we declare our dependence. In Christ alone. Today and every day.

Here's a good reminder of this by the Mississippi Mass Choir...

 

 


J.D. Greear Doesn't Need Me To Speak For Him...But, This Is Slanderous

Just last week the Southern Baptist Convention elected J.D. Greear as president. I was in attendance in Dallas for our annual meeting. The workings of the SBC can be confusing for some, especially those who are not Southern Baptists. While this one-page synopsis of our denominational structure and leadership is correct, it still may prove confusing. Nevertheless, for those who wonder, I recommend you click this link for A Closer Look.

President Greear

J.D. Greear was elected as the SBC president this year with approximately 70% of the vote. Some have portrayed this as a major shift in the Southern Baptist Convention, stating that it as a shift from wing tips to Air Jordans. Greear is the second youngest SBC president to be elected in our history.

Greear

Some declare this election positively as our denomination seeks to engage the world we live in with the Gospel, reaching all peoples, all generations, and varying cultures with the unchanging message of hope from Jesus Christ.

Others lament Greear's election, fearing that the elements of biblical fidelity and denominational integrity will be lost now that a "youth movement" has occurred.

While I wish I could say this amazes me, unfortunately, it does not.

To declare Greear as some "young buck" intent on watering down the Scriptures in order to be relevant to a changing culture is to discount who he is, what he has preached, where he has led his church, and the affirmations from senior leaders throughout the SBC who have voiced their support of his election prior to the vote in Dallas. 

While serving as the SBC president, J.D. Greear continues to pastor his flock at Summit Church in North Carolina. The responsibilities he has now been given do not erase those from his local church, but are added to them. In other words, this is a heavy task given him, not just by the messengers (voting representatives of SBC churches in Dallas) but primarily from God. J.D. Greear, his family, and his church need our prayers.

I have talked to J.D. in the past and through mutual friends, partnerships, and associations in Baptist life and church planting, we have been privileged to come alongside some from Summit Church and the Summit Network who have planted new churches in North Carolina and Florida.

I am confident in Greear's leadership skills, but mostly in his heart for the Lord, his doctrinal integrity, his hold to biblical inerrancy, and affirmations of our confessions of faith as Baptists. Therefore, in no way do I fear that Greear has or will lead his church or our denomination down a path of liberalism or cultural acquiescence. That is why I was shocked and appalled to read the recent article published by the American Family Association (AFA) by Bryan Fischer.

The American Family Association

For many years, conservative evangelicals have aligned with the AFA on social issues. This non-profit was founded by Reverend Donald Wildmon in Mississippi back in 1977 as an "organization promoting the biblical ethic of decency in American society with primary emphasis on television or other media." Later the shift was toward a broader emphasis on moral issues as related to families. Many conservatives appreciated the work of the AFA, as did I. Some even supported the group financially. The AFA has been known for years as promoting and leading boycotts of corporations and companies they determined were promoting immoral and anti-family material. Whether boycotts were effective remains debatable, but nevertheless, issues of cultural shift were brought to the front-burner through them.

You may or may not like the AFA or the work they have done. The point of this post is not to debate the existence and work of the AFA, but the trending article published on their site by Bryan Fischer. 

Fischer's article makes for good click-bait, especially for those who love reading about divisive things and who declare the end of evangelicalism and especially the SBC being imminent. 

Slanderous?

Some would say that slander is too harsh a word. Yet, as I read Fischer's words, that was what came to mind. In his article he quotes Greear, then dissects his words in such a way to lead the reader down a path far from the intent of J.D.'s statements. Fischer quotes a sermon Greear preached when he spoke of loving our neighbors as Christ commanded, even those who are homosexual. Greear clearly states that our love for people as God's image-bearers is mandated. As you read the sermon transcript, it is clear that in no way does Greear state that homosexuality is not sin. In fact, he states the opposite as Scripture affirms. That taken with other postings, interviews, and especially the sermon Greear preached on Monday evening in Dallas at this year's SBC Pastor's Conference clearly affirms that Greear stands firmly on Scripture in calling sin what it is, but also calling Christians to fulfill the Great Commandment.

Yet, Fischer apparently reads this differently. He quotes:

But Greear is saying, it appears to me, that if it comes down to a choice between loving my neighbor or loving my position on homosexuality, I’m going to have to ditch my position on homosexuality. If my position on sexuality comes between me and my neighbor, then I’ve got to jettison the thing that’s in the way, my position on sexuality.

I would say the key phrase here is "it appears to me." To which I say to Mr. Fischer, you're wrong. What you deem as appearing to you is not what Greear has said, not only here in this message, but in the myriad of other statements and sermons.

If you have the time, go ahead and watch this message that Greear preached at the 2014 ERLC Conference on "The Gospel, Homosexuality, and the Future of Marriage." It seems to clear up what has been presented as contradictory by Mr. Fischer. I would post the sermon J.D. preached at this year's Pastors' Conference, but it is not available online at this time.

In case you wish to read Fischer's full article, it is available here. I sincerely hope the AFA will remove it. Nevertheless, I link it so you can read it for yourself. I don't want to be accused of pulling one paragraph out of context. 

I may be accused of simply standing up for someone I know. I am okay with that. I hope other brothers and sisters in our convention stand up as well. There will likely be many (there already have been some) who will write, preach, and speak against the leadership of J.D. Greear. J.D. is not perfect. He has, and will, make mistakes. However, I believe God has called him to this task for now. He is our convention president and many will be listening more closely to what he says and doesn't say over the next twelve months. 

To my friends who continue to listen to AFA Radio, support the work of this organization, and line up with all that is produced from them, please encourage them to remove the slanderous article that contradicts what Greear has declared historically. I'm not calling for a boycott of an organization that leads in boycotts, but maybe removing support should be considered. Would that be a boycott? Maybe.

J.D. Greear doesn't need me to make these statements on his behalf. Yet, as a brother in Christ, a fellow pastor and servant to our Lord, these statements need to be made. I hope others will agree, stand alongside J.D., praying for him and refuse to be caught in this tangle of misinformation, deceit, and untruths. 


Why Our Jacksonville Statement on Gospel Unity & Racial Reconciliation Is Needed

Approximately three months ago, I was asked to co-chair a team of pastors in our city (Jacksonville, Florida) by our Lead Missional Strategist of the Jacksonville Baptist Association. Along with Pastor Elijah Simmons of Mt. Horeb Baptist Church in Jacksonville, we agreed to serve with these brothers in order to put together a document we hoped would never be needed, but clearly is. 

The team of pastors who agreed to serve on this Gospel Unity Team, in addition to Pastor Simmons and me, include:

Why The Need?

Clearly racial tension in America is high. You would think that we would be beyond this by now, right? While division among many based on race continues within the world, the grievous reality is that the church falls prey to the enemy's divisive tactics as well. The landmark Civil Rights Act of 1964 was necessary and an answer to prayer for many. Yet, we are reminded that while needed, right political action does not change the heart. Only God does that. 

Sadly, many (not all) churches and church leaders remained silent during the 1950s and 1960s and beyond as racial equality was debated in the public forum (and sadly, many of those "debates" were one-sided and sinfully devised, especially when "separate but equal" was considered normal and fire hoses and dogs were on the debate teams.)

"But this is 2018, things are better now." I'm sure that's true comparatively. I would never wish to insult those who lived through the most terrible times most only now read about his history books or at memorials. While things may be better, for some, we are far from a place where we can sit back and say "done." There's much work yet to accomplish and as Christians, the church must never again find itself muzzled when the fullness of the gospel must be proclaimed.

Much has been said, more eloquently and from stronger perspectives than I can offer, but when churches and pastors serving side-by-side in a city like ours begin to question even being in the same network due to what others (pastors and Christians) have posted on social media, shared, or commented upon that does nothing for the work of God's Kingdom and actually elevates division, it is no longer an option to remain silent.

That's why this statement on gospel unity is needed.

The SBC Statements

As Southern Baptists, we own a rich, but also troubling legacy. Much has been written about our founding. Repentant statements and resolutions have been made over the years. All needed, but as we all know, resolutions without action leave us empty. At this coming Southern Baptist Convention in June, another resolution will be presented. The statement to be presented is available here in its entirety.  If brought to the floor for a vote, I plan to affirm this statement. 

Yet, for many local church members, national statements may remain unheard.

What about our city?

What about our churches?

What do we believe regarding the racial tensions that exist?

More than that, what does the Bible reveal that we must hold to as truth?

Our statement gives clear, brief, and biblical answers to these questions. Our prayer is that this helps the local church stay on mission and that biblical unity in Christ not only occurs but remains. 

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Photo by rawpixel on Unsplash

The Jacksonville Statement

Our statement was comprised following two months of meetings that included much prayer, conversation, "word-smithing," and considerations of how others would receive the message. The statement is now available at the Jacksonville Baptist Association website. We hope to soon offer a way for pastors and church members to sign their names to the statement as well. Our desire is to remove anything that promotes unclarity and to have this statement, rooted in God's inerrant Word, as our clear beliefs regarding needed gospel unity and racial reconciliation.

 

JACKSONVILLE STATEMENT ON GOSPEL UNITY 

RACIAL RECONCILIATION & THE JACKSONVILLE BAPTIST ASSOCIATION

“Therefore I, the prisoner in the Lord, urge you to live worthy of the calling you have received, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, making every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace. There is one body and one Spirit—just as you were called to one hope at your calling—one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is above all and through all and in all.”

- Ephesians 4:1-6 (CSB) -

Preamble

As evangelical Christians we acknowledge the reality that division and disunity are tools of the Enemy against the proliferation and spread of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Whether in families, local church bodies, neighboring churches, or even denominational entities, division has unfortunately been far too normative throughout church history.

Race, as commonly defined, refers to the various ethnicities, skin colors, and cultural heritages of human beings.  As evangelical Christians, we acknowledge the sinful divides among those of differing races that, at times, have been ignored or worse, excused within the church.

Reconciliation refers to the acknowledgement of human brokenness and the need for restoration to God through Jesus Christ (Colossians 1:20-23). In that he has reconciled humanity to himself, Christians are to be reconciled one to another, as children of God (2 Corinthians 5:18).

Great strides toward reconciliation occurred in the United States throughout the second half of the twentieth century. Yet, many continue to experience great division and painful separation due to ethnicity, cultural heritage, and/or race. While acknowledging much has been done to reconcile over recent decades, it is clear we have far to go.

Racial reconciliation for Christians is not solely, or even primarily, a political issue. Racial reconciliation for Christians is not merely a social justice issue. Racial reconciliation for Christians is not a public relations issue. Racial division is a sin issue. Therefore, racial reconciliation for Christians is a gospel unity issue.

To ignore sin is to affirm sin. Therefore, the pastors and leaders serving together in local churches and denominational entities have deemed it right, timely, and proper to present a clear, concise, biblically-founded, gospel-centered statement on gospel unity and racial reconciliation.

We believe that God has created all humanity in His image, male and female, with diverse skin tones and ethnic histories. As image-bearers we exist for the glory of God knowing that brings us the greatest good. We believe that salvation is found in Jesus Christ alone and that he died so that all may be saved (John 3:16). This offer is for all people and therefore, believing clarity on the issues of unity and racial reconciliation among believers, we offer the following affirmations and denials.

Article 1

WE AFFIRM that racial reconciliation is a gospel issue.

WE DENY that racial reconciliation is solely a social issue.

Matthew 15:21-28; Romans 1:16-17; Galatians 2:11-14; Ephesians 1:9-10, 13; 2:1-10, 13, 14-22; 3:3-5

Article 2

WE AFFIRM that the gospel alone offers hope and celebrates what the world fears.[1]

WE DENY that anything other than God and the full message of the gospel provide the hope and answers needed for humanity.

Psalm 28:7; 46:2-3; Lamentations 3:18; Matthew 12:21; Romans 8:24-25; 12:12; 1 Corinthians 13:13; Galatians 5:5; Hebrews 11:1, 7; Titus 2:11-14; 1 Peter 1:3, 1 John 3:3

Article 3

WE AFFIRM the biblical teaching of race references the differences between Jewish and non-Jewish peoples.

WE DENY the definition of race that creates a racial hierarchy based on inferred biological inferiority.

Leviticus 19:34; Acts 8:26-40; Romans 10:12; Ephesians 2:11-3:8; 1 Corinthians 12:13

Article 4

WE AFFIRM that Scripture teaches that Canaan was cursed by Noah due to his son Ham’s actions and that Cain was marked by God following the murder of his brother Abel.

WE DENY the curse of Canaan, often called the “Curse of Ham” and the mark of Cain, wrongly defined as a change of his skin color, refers to racial superiority or inferiority or has anything to do with differing skin tones of people.

Genesis 4:15; 9:20-25; 10:6

Article 5

WE AFFIRM that gospel-centered racial reconciliation is a pursuit of love for others flowing from Holy Spirit-empowered obedience of those who repent, believe in the cross and resurrection of Jesus by faith, and are justified by faith in Christ.[2]

WE DENY that ethnic diversity is synonymous with gospel-centered racial reconciliation.

Deuteronomy 10:17-19; Matthew 25; John 13:34; Acts 10:34-35; Galatians 3:28; Ephesians 4:32; James 2:8

Article 6

WE AFFIRM that God has designed marriage to be a covenantal, lifelong union between one man and one woman, regardless of race or ethnicity, for His glory, signifying the covenant love between Christ and His church.

WE DENY that marriage between a man and woman from differing racial or ethnic backgrounds to be sinful.

Genesis 2:23-24; Matthew 19:6; 2 Corinthians 6:14; Ephesians 5:22-23; 28-29; 31

Article 7

WE AFFIRM that pastors are uniquely called and positioned to shepherd their people toward gospel-centered racial reconciliation understanding that diversity is actually at the heart of the gospel.[3]

WE DENY that racial reconciliation can be forced upon others through human means.

John 21:15-17; Ephesians 4:11; 1 Timothy 3:1-7; 1 Peter 5:1-2

Article 8

WE AFFIRM the resolutions approved at Southern Baptist Convention annual meetings repenting of the sins of racism, most notably slave-holding, of past generations, and the need for continued work toward gospel-centered racial and ethnic unity.

WE DENY that the sins of past generations can be ignored and need not be acknowledged.

Nehemiah 9:1-2; Jeremiah 6:16; Daniel 9:16

Article 9

WE AFFIRM that all human beings are image bearers of God.

WE DENY the validity, truthfulness, and right standing of any and all organizations, groups, or individuals claiming racial superiority of any kind.

Genesis 1:26-27; Galatians 3:28; Ephesians 2:15; James 3:9; 1 Peter 2:17; Revelation 7:9

Article 10

WE AFFIRM that unity in our churches must be founded in Christ alone.

WE DENY that unity in our churches can be founded in political ideologies or national identity.

Psalm 20:7; 133:1; Daniel 2:21; Matthew 6:33; Romans 8:28; 13:1-8; 1 Corinthians 12:27; Ephesians 4:2; Philippians 2:3; 1 Peter 2:13-15; Jude 3; Revelation 7:9-12

_____

            [1] R. Albert Mohler, Jr., “The Root Cause of the Stain of Racism in the Southern Baptist Convention” in Removing the Stain of Racism from the Southern Baptist Convention, eds. Kevin M. Jones and Jarvis J. Williams (Nashville, TN: Broadman & Holman, 2017), 5.

            [2] Jarvis J. Williams, “Biblical Steps Toward Removing the Stains of Racism in the Southern Baptist Convention” in Removing the Stain of Racism from the Southern Baptist Convention, eds. Kevin M. Jones and Jarvis J. Williams (Nashville, TN: Broadman & Holman, 2017), 30.

            [3] Jamaal Williams, “Intentionally Cultivating Multicultural Churches,” Light Magazine, Winter 2016, 27.


Can Anything Good Come From Dallas This Summer? - The Southern Baptist Convention 2018

Every summer, messengers from Southern Baptist churches throughout the world gather in predetermined cities for our annual meeting. This year it will be in Dallas, Texas in June. For those outside the SBC tribe, this is basically a two-day business meeting where elections for denominational officers take place, reports from denominational entities occur, along with other meetings and some powerful times of worship, preaching, and fellowship. 

The SBC annual meetings often make the news for things done or left undone. Then, the news cycle shifts and for the most part, outside the member churches and denominational entities, others in the culture pay little attention to SBC happenings. I have been to numerous meetings where the consensus going in from many attendees has been "Well, there's nothing controversial on the docket this year, so this should be a pretty low-key gathering." Those sentiments are often shed once business starts. Inevitably, there are some questions asked from the floor or things said from the podium that trend on Twitter and other social media outlets and in today's instant-media world, these get picked up by others to make the SBC newsworthy once more to a culture that varies from not caring to being totally opposed to evangelical Christianity and a biblical worldview.

I am concerned, not worried, at what I am seeing take place in our denomination and member churches and entities leading up to our annual meeting. There are some key decisions to be made this year and some will take place prior to our annual gathering, others at the annual meeting, and still others following.

For decades, a semblance of "controversy" has defined the SBC. Depending on one's perspective, the latest large-scale conflict began in 1979 with what has been termed the Conservative Resurgence. In full disclosure, I am glad this resurgence took place. It was needed. 

There have been other issues over the years, and as we move toward our 2018 meeting in Dallas, there is much stirring in the SBC world.

I remember the good old days (about three months ago) when the only thing being discussed and debated was the SBC presidential election between J.D. Greear and Ken Hemphill. Now, there are other things talked about and discussed (online, in the mainstream press, and among Baptist leaders and church members) that cause many to see 2018 as a potentially conflicted and controversial meeting.

Questions regarding leadership of denominational entities are on the front-burner. Continued (needed) discussion on racial reconciliation and unity moves to the front as well. Questions centered on sexism and abuse have produced petitions and will become discussion topics as well. Trustee meetings for different entities are happening. One friend lamented to me "These are dark days for the SBC." Perhaps, but let us not lose hope. For such a time as this, SBC messengers will gather for the glory of God and the good of the church.

There will be difficult decisions ahead. Some will be made by individuals, others by trustees, still others by the full body of messengers in attendance. 

We often say "The world is watching" as a reminder to ensure we say and do the right things. Yet, I am reminded that we have a more important audience than the world. God is not only watching, but guiding and if these are "dark days" then we need to be sure we walk in the Light. <Tweet This>

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SBC Annual Meeting 2018 - Dallas, Texas

I fully believe that all the issues being discussed must be discussed. Therefore, I call for all SBC church members and messengers to pray now and continually (and strategically) as we move toward our gathering in Dallas this June 12-13 (with the Pastor's Conference on June 11-12).

Presidential Election

Here's a truth that many may struggle to believe. IT IS POSSIBLE to actually like both candidates for SBC president. J.D. Greear and Ken Hemphill are both godly men who will be officially nominated for the one-year term of SBC president by other godly men. I like both of these candidates. I appreciate both men's service to the Lord and his Kingdom and to our denomination. Each will lead well if elected. While some love creating division and seek to utilize ungodly tools to tear down others, I will not.

I have only one vote, I will vote as I believe God has led me to do. I plan to place my vote for J.D. Greear to be SBC president. My vote is NOT a "no vote" for Dr. Hemphill. I believe Dr. Greear is God's man for these days for our denomination. 

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Dr. J.D. Greear (L) and Dr. Ken Hemphill (R)

Denominational Leadership

The trustees of the Executive Committee have been meeting and have a heavy task ahead of them following the departure of Dr. Frank Page. Whether a recommendation for president of the EC is presented in June or not, these men and women need our prayers.  I affirm these recommendations for the next president as written on the Baptist 21 blog - "8 Suggestions for the Next President of the SBC Executive Committee"

The International Mission Board trustees are prayerfully considering new leadership upon the departure of Dr. David Platt back to local church ministry. While this, from my perspective, does not seem controversial, it is a vital decision for one of our major denominational boards. 

As you are likely aware, the trustees of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary will be gathering at the end of May for a specially-called meeting. It is no small undertaking to call such a meeting and the cost of hosting such is high. Therefore, it is clear that this meeting will result in some decisions surrounding Dr. Paige Patterson and the presidency of SWBTS. I have no insight into the inner-workings of these trustee meetings, but I know that those who serve have a heaviness of responsibility upon them. 

Regardless where you stand on any of the decisions being made or potentially to be made, it is clear that "the times they are a changin'" and we (SBCers) better do well and right.

Racial Reconciliation

It amazes me that in 2018 the issues of racial division seems to be growing, not lessening in our nation. Yet, I shouldn't have been surprised. Sin remains. Latent sin is awakened when others stoke the fires of division. On the heels of the MLK50 Conference (which I gladly attended) and with last year's SBC in Phoenix where we (messengers) stumbled badly on a resolution focused on racial reconciliation, we have another resolution being offered up for vote. My friend Cam Triggs, Pastor of Grace Alive Church in Orlando, is one of the signatories of the resolution. I affirm the wording of this resolution and pray that we will overwhelmingly approve it as SBC messengers. You can read it here.

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Can Anything Good Come From This?

The question reeks with foreboding. Yet, I believe that great good can result from our gathering this summer in Dallas. For two days, we will be gathering for worship, preaching, teaching, and fellowship at the SBC Pastors Conference led by my friend, Dr. H.B. Charles, Jr. I know he and his planning team have prayed over and prepared for this weekend gathering. The Word will be preached boldly. God will be glorified. The church will be benefited. More than that, I believe we, the attendees will be affirmed in areas, convicted in areas, and renewed for that which is to come (the next days' annual meeting and the weekly gatherings in local churches throughout the SBC.)

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SBC Pastors Conference 2018

I believe that we will unify on that which matters most - the gospel of Jesus Christ. It is not that we have ignored this, but in times of trial and controversy, we are thrust back to the basics. Political positioning, polity negotiations, clear talking points, or any other human talent or skill will not unite us for that which we must do. It is in Christ alone we find our unity and solid ground. Will everyone leaving the meetings be in full agreement regarding decisions made? Well, no...we are Baptists, and more than that, we are human. Yet, in the essentials, we must be unified. May we "fulfill our ministry" to "testify" to the world the unchanging, life-saving, message of the gospel. 

We are being watched. Let's just be sure we're focusing on the right audience.


Your New Church Has Great Music, a Trendy Logo, and Looks Great On Instagram...But, That's Not Enough

Laura M. Holson recently (March 17, 2018) wrote an article about a young, large, fast-growing church in southern California for The New York Times. Dr. Albert Mohler referenced the article and church in his podcast The Briefing, posted on March 23, 2018.)

As I listened to Dr. Mohler's podcast and then read the article, I could not help but think "I know churches just like the one in the article!"

Pastors serving in a metropolitan or suburban (and perhaps in some rural) areas have noticed an uptick in new church starts intent on reaching the next generation. I am excited to see more churches in our city. I am so glad to see men step up, not just as a career choice, but due to a God calling (BTW - not all who seek to pastor, should. I wrote about that in the past here). That's why I serve in our city network as a church planting assessor, offer our facilities for new works, and seek to help those called into pastoral ministry as best I can.

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Now that I amazingly am an "old-timer" in our community since I've pastored here for over two decades, I often am asked about some of the new starts that pop up from my peers. Normally the question is something like "What's up with XYZ Church?" Sometimes I know the new pastor and have great things to say. Other times, I have yet to meet the new pastor and have no information to offer. Then, there are the other circumstances when I do know the pastor, know of his theology and focus, and seeking not to be negative, will just encourage others to pray for them (while never encouraging anyone to attend their church.)

Referencing the article from the NYT and Dr. Mohler's assessment once more, I noticed some things that stand out and should be addressed by evangelicals (based on a solid definition of the term). I list some of these below, in no particular order:

The Term "Evangelical" Has Become Almost Unusable

In America today, the term evangelical is used by some who understand the meaning to be related to an identified subset of Christianity that holds to biblical authority and the desire to reach out, or evangelize (thus, the name) those who are non-believers. This is a valid definition. It lines up with the explanation of the National Association of Evangelicals on their site:

Evangelicals take the Bible seriously and believe in Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord. The term “evangelical” comes from the Greek word euangelion, meaning “the good news” or the “gospel.” Thus, the evangelical faith focuses on the “good news” of salvation brought to sinners by Jesus Christ.

However, most recently the term "evangelical" has been muddied. The media uses the term to identify any church or Christian that cannot be categorized as Catholic or Protestant Liberal. More troubling, the term has become an identifier of a perceived political ideology. Christians are likely to blame for this.

Marketing Is Celebrated More Than Message

To be clear, I love specialty marketing stuff. I have no real issues with churches creating attractive logos and plastering them on shirts, hats, or other items. Maybe that's a hold over from my business classes in college. A well-designed logo becomes identifiable in a community. Churches seeking to connect with Millennials often utilize social media (Instagram and Snapchat primarily) to spread the word and create a sense of "coolness" for what they're doing. I'm not opposed to it. Just call it what it is. It is not evangelism. It is not discipleship. It is marketing. While not a bad thing, the church must remember that we have not been called to market well, but to be "salt" and "light" in the world (Matt 5:13-16), commissioned to make disciples of Jesus Christ (Matt 28:19-20).

In some churches, especially the ones referenced in the article, music is incredible, complete with the best sound systems, incredible musicians and smoke machines.

Yet, the message is somewhere an afterthought. The message is toned down into a stream of tweetable thoughts of positive thinking, self-belief, with just enough Jesus sprinkled in to allow the gathering to claim to be Christian. But, it's dangerous.

From Holson's article:

Mr. Veach believes he can save souls by being the hip and happy-go-lucky preacher, the one you want to share a bowl of açaí with at Backyard Bowls on Beverly Boulevard, who declines to publicly discuss politics in the Trump era because it’s hard to minister if no one wants to come to church. Jesus is supposed to be fun, right?

“I want to be loud and dumb,” Mr. Veach said with a wide, toothy grin. “That’s my goal. If we aren’t making people laugh, what are we doing? What is the point?”

Asked about abortion rights, Mr. Veach declined to give a specific answer. “At the end of the day I am a Bible guy,” he said.

Mr. Veach’s father shrugged about his son’s equivocation. “Last thing you want to do is turn off a whole demographic,” he said of today’s pastors. “If you draw lines in the sand, people are going to think God hates them.”

And Mr. Veach wants Zoe to be a refuge for many, against the rhetoric of so many other dogmatic evangelicals.

“From the time I’ve entered, and, maybe, just what we grew up in, it’s, like, you don’t bring politics into church,” he said. “We’re here to preach good news. We’re here to bring hope to humanity. We’re here to talk about God. This is not the place for a political agenda. This is the last place. When I come to church, you know what I need? I need encouragement.”

Dr. Mohler responds:

Now before we dismiss that statement entirely, there's something profoundly true in what he said. People do not come to church in order to talk about politics. That's not what their souls need. But what he said is fundamentally wrong and it ends up being actually, not only allergic to politics but antithetical to the gospel because he reduces what people do need to exactly the wrong word, encouragement. There have been far too many evangelical congregations that have talked more eagerly and more clearly about politics and political issues than they have about the gospel and that is to their shame. But the inescapable fact is that if you are 'a Bible guy" then that means you have to teach the Bible and it means you have to believe the Bible as the inerrant and infallible word of God. It means that you have to preach the parts of the Bible that a contemporary society might find encouraging but it also means you've got to preach the parts of the Bible that a modern, very secular society will find anything but encouraging. Most importantly, if you claim to be committed to human flourishing, you have to be clear about whom the Bible identifies as a human and what flourishing would mean.

"Gospel Lite" with a Good Beat

Now, I do not know Mr. Veach. And, clearly, all I have to go on is what the church promotes online and an article written for The New York Times.

What I do know is that as I read the article about Zoe Church in southern California, as described in this article, I could not help but think of a few churches in our community that seem to have taken the exact blueprint for church launching and growth. They have great music, marketable goods, a trendy logo, an incredible social media presence. This is the Instagram and Snapchat generation and these churches are connecting well.

My concern is the sacrifice of good theology for the propagation of crowd gathering, bent solely on encouragement and good feels.

Many of these music-driven churches are based on others such as Hillsong, described in the NYT article as the "granddaddy of them all." Mohler says, "Hillsong is in many ways an updated millennial prosperity theology packed very well with contemporary music."

Worship Doesn't Have to Be a "No Smoking" Zone

To be clear, having a good band lead worship, complete with lights and even a smoke machine is not bad. Some lambast music styles, but I do not. I am firmly convinced authentic worship can take place through a variety of music styles. To argue otherwise is a waste of breath and ultimately moot.

However, just having good music does not excuse weak preaching. There are some incredible worship songs being written today and many have been sung regularly in churches throughout the world. Yet, the wise pastor would be careful to ensure the worship music (whether old hymns, country gospel, hip hop, modern praise, etc.) has strongly worded lyrics that affirm good theology.  A good rule of thumb is that if a band spends more time explaining why a lyric is biblical after being confronted by solid, biblically sound pastors regarding said lyric, the song should be deleted from the worship set.

I don't care if the band plays contemporary music. I don't care if there are lights and a smoke machine. I don't care that a trendy logo is slapped on various items. I really don't care if a church does that. My warning is to not major on the minors (all that stuff) and miss the main thing - the message of the gospel.

A Higher Standard

I care about these churches because I know some of their pastors and a good number of their members. I pray they will not sacrifice the good news for a good time.

However, if a local church proves to be more icing than cake, I will continue to pray for them and not recommend that anyone attend. 

And for those who counter "Well, they weren't going to church anywhere. At least that church is better than not going, right?" I say - "Probably not."

I care because I want people to come to Christ. I want the unreached reached. I want the lost found. I just don't want a fluffy, weak, watered-down version of Christianity to propagate.

There's too much at stake. 


Live for God and You Will Face a Sanballat & Tobiah

I have been leading our church through a study of Ezra and Nehemiah on Wednesdays recently. We have discussed much about the rebuilding of the Temple and walls of Jerusalem. We looked at the significance of rebuilding these structures and of the gates of the city as well.

As you who have studied these books know, there are a few characters who show up early in the book of Nehemiah that seek to discredit Nehemiah's leadership and put a stop to the work being done in the city. These men are Sanballat, Tobiah, and Geshem.

The main protagonists are Sanballat and Tobiah. At first, they start hurling insults at Nehemiah and the people. Then, the threats lead to potential physical attacks. They are opposed to the work of God and are doing their best to stop it.

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Photo credit: alvaro tapia hidalgo on Visualhunt / CC BY-NC-ND

Nehemiah is seeking to lead God's people well and honor God through the work. The enemies seek to place themselves first, not God nor his people. This is clear in the writings. 

Sanballat, Tobiah, and Geshem were men of influence. They had authority in the community due to their roles as governors and leaders of their regions. They represented people groups that were originally expelled from the Promised Land of God's people centuries prior. 

While it's not necessarily a good thing to ask "Where am I in this story?" when it comes to biblical narratives, primarily because that seems to place self at the center of God's stories. In this case, there are some things that are not only clear historically, but applicable for churches and Christian leaders today.

There are always Sanballats and Tobiahs

Most pastors I know have experienced this reality. When a pastor or Christian leader seeks to do great, impossible, God-sized things for the glory of God, there is always opposition. In other words, there's always a "Sanballat" and "Tobiah" in the midst. These may be community members or neighbors. Sometimes, they are actually members of the church. 

Over time they become easily recognizable. Here are some things that occur within the church that reveal a Sanballat and Tobiah may be in the room:

  • A sense of "me first" or "our group first" rises to the surface when community engagement and mission expansion are presented.
  • A pervasive negativity fills the room and is stoked by the Sanballats and Tobiahs. Negativity is like a cancer and can turn a joyous gathering of Christians into a complain-fest that sees nothing positive happening.
  • Vision dissipates.
  • A desire to go back rather than forward is often expressed.
  • An "us versus them" mentality is expressed, either overtly or covertly. The confusion may come in identifying the "us" and the "them." 
  • New ideas (or even old ones cemented in biblical truth) are opposed.
  • A number of pastors have heard the "We were here before you came here. We'll be here after you're gone." expression regularly.
  • A continued reminder of how big a failure you are as a pastor or leader (i.e. "You didn't visit enough," "Your sermons are negative diatribes," "You love 'them' more than 'us,'" "You're changing things and we don't like it," "Your family is rude/mean/loud/unruly/undisciplined/etc."

Here's the good news - your Sanballats and Tobiahs are just members of a long-lasting club. It's a club no one should want to be a member, yet continues to grow in number, it seems.

Pastor, be encouraged. There's no pastor who has not faced this. You are called to shepherd and serve. You are not perfect. You will make mistakes. Believe me, people will let you know when you make mistakes. Just remember that God called and equipped a king's cupbearer for an impossible task of rebuilding a stone wall with large wooden gates around a city. This task he (Nehemiah) was given was impossible. Then, while continually facing opposition, even from those who were working with him, he was opposed by Sanballat and Tobiah. Yet, he finished the task. The city was restored. God's good hand (Neh 2) was upon him. It is on you as well. Stay focused on the task, grounded in the gospel and respond to the negative attackers as Nehemiah did...

And I sent messengers to them, saying, “I am doing a great work and I cannot come down. Why should the work stop while I leave it and come down to you?” Nehemiah 6:3 (ESV) 

I love that! When Sanballat and Tobiah were working once more to distract and stop the work Nehemiah was called to do, he responds with "Can't talk now. The work of God I am doing now is too important." 

Take heart. You're not the first to face opposition. You' won't be the last. Don't waste time talking about it to those who are direly opposed to God and his work (regardless their position or title) and press on. Yes, this is easier said than done, but then most vital things are.

One other warning: Be careful not to become a Sanballat or Tobiah. It's really easy to slide into that mode, even justifying one's own sin while doing so.


Why We Let Other Churches Use Our Building

Among western, and especially American evangelical churches, a sense of territorialism has been a reality for as long as I can remember.

"Church A" has been in a community for a while. "Church B" exists in a neighboring community. A sense of ownership over a region develops, not unlike that which exists between school districts. The sense of ownership is not necessarily bad, especially when a church deems its neighborhood and surrounding community as their missional responsibility for engagement. 

The problems often develop when "Church A" gets upset at "Church B" for perceived encroachment on their domain.

A jealousy develops and negative thoughts and comments often result.

There are obviously issues in churches and at times, church splits happen and members leave to join another church. These rarely are the result of a Kingdom-mindedness and more often are the result of one or more issues (poor pastoral leadership, disagreements with doctrinal stances, consumer mentalities, seeking better ministries for kids, etc.) that are more prevalent among Christians than we'd like to admit. Sometimes sinful motivations are what push or pull members away from one church to another (or to none.) This is grievous and can be delved in more at a later time.

Nevertheless, the sin of Christian competitiveness rears its head at times and the church experiences jealousy or an isolationist mindset. 

As I write this, I am reminded that the sense of competitiveness and territorialism exists even within my own heart. Comparative ministry analysis between our church and others is an easy thing to do. Sometimes, it's helpful and healthy. At other times, it is simply an outgrowth of jealousy or desperation.

Acknowledging my own weaknesses in these areas, I continue to repent. I know that new works (i.e. new churches, church plants, church campuses, etc.) statistically reach people sometimes at higher rates than established churches. Why? I'll leave that for someone else to study. Sounds like a doctoral dissertation for someone, maybe?

We (our church) have joined others in our network of churches (Jacksonville Baptist Association), state convention, mission agencies and other groups throughout North America and the world lauding the church planting and new work efforts. I have served as a church planting assessor, have coached new pastors, sought to help new works get launched, find locations, funding, etc.

So, when a new church with solid doctrine, quality leadership, and a passion for the gospel seeks to launch in our community, I know to be frustrated, competitive or comparative is hypocritical at best.

That's why we have determined to work with new churches launching in our "territory," offering help when possible. Why? Because there are more unsaved people in our community than saved, and we know that we cannot reach them on our own. God continues to draw people to himself and we are honored and blessed to be part of his great story.

In the past, we have hosted other churches in our buildings. Some have been churches that met for just a few months. Others were focused on reaching people in our community who speak a different heart language than English. Some started as just a planter and core team seeking a place to pray and gather prior to taking their next steps.

DOXA CHURCH

We are honored to host a new church plant, pastored by Jeth Looney, for such meetings. Doxa Church is going to have some pre-launch meetings at our church building in Orange Park with the intent of planting in Orange Park soon. Jeth is a called pastor and gifted to teach and preach. His heart for the gospel and reaching this community for Christ is evident. Doxa will be part of our city network and convention moving forward and we believe that God is already at work through this new church as they have gathered in homes, and will do great things through them in Orange Park and beyond.

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Doxa Church Vision Meeting in the F Building of FBCOP on 3/18/2018

Do we really need another church in Orange Park?

Apparently, there are still unsaved, unreached, and unengaged people in Orange Park. So the answer is yes. Yes, we need more gospel-centric, unapologetic, missional churches in our community. We need these churches, and they need us. The mission remains and together we can do much more for the kingdom of God and the sake of the gospel than we can alone.

What if members of FBC Orange Park leave to join Doxa?

Hmmm, this is the real question isn't it? It's safer to host a meeting. It's dangerous to see church members leave to join another church in the community. However, unlike the common exits that are predicated by frustrations or doctrinal issues, if members of our church (well, it's really God's church, right?) leave to help launch a new work in Orange Park...good. In fact, "To God be the glory!" 

We have a choice - we can either continue to work on building our small kingdoms, believing that somehow this is good, or allow our actions to match our words and trust God to grow His kingdom through any means he chooses. Sometimes, he may call a church member from "Church A" to serve in "Church B." This is far different from the normal transfer member "growth." I do believe, however, that God never calls a church member from a church to another for the purpose of doing nothing but being served. I also believe that any "sent" members must be members in good standing, generous, service-minded, and action-oriented, not under church discipline, and not disengaged.

Pray for Doxa Church

Unnamed
Pastor Jeth Looney

Join me in praying for Jeth and his team as they seek to launch Doxa Church in Orange Park. May we continue to be part of movements of God greater than ourselves.

 


A Little Monday Encouragement for the Pastor Who Is Done

It's Monday and for pastors out there reading this, I want to remind you "Never resign on a Monday."

Sundays are big days for pastors. Days of preparation, even if to the average church attender, every Sunday feels like every other Sunday. Sundays take a lot of time. Much prayer goes into the services and events scheduled at most churches. In most cases, pastors delay their family time, time off, fun time with the kids, relaxation time, etc. - you know Sabbath - in preparation for these weekend gatherings.

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Photo credit: CJ Sorg on VisualHunt / CC BY-SA

Then, it's time for church and amazingly, people actually show up. That's always encouraging.

Yet, once the day is over, Monday hits and it's time for the "post-game press conference" at least in our heads (unless your John Crist, then you actually have one. See here.)

Perhaps you have heard the following, or things like this in the last 24 hours:

  • The music was too loud.
  • The music was great.
  • The music was bad.
  • The music was perfect.
  • I felt welcomed.
  • No one greeted me.
  • I loved it here.
  • It was a terrible experience.
  • I'll be back.
  • I'm never coming back.
  • Loved the sermon.
  • Weak sermon.
  • Sermon was deep. Really made me think.
  • Sermon was shallow. Milk, not meat.
  • Sermon was like a seminary class. Loved that!
  • Sermon was like a seminary class. I don't want to know all that language and history. Boring.
  • Small group was great. Felt like home.
  • Small group was a basically a clique. I think they were upset I showed up.
  • Youth group time was great. Kids loved it.
  • Youth group was terrible. No one there my kids go to school with. 
  • Youth group was great. Teachers were engaging. Class was fun.
  • Youth group was terrible. Teachers were mean. Boring.
  • Loved the small group. Teacher was so prepared.
  • Hated the small group. Teacher didn't show up.
  • My kids loved their group. Thank you for being so friendly, welcoming and providing a safe place.
  • Hate the kids and preschool groups. Hate having to go through the security program. Won't be back.
  • You guys are so down to earth and relatable.
  • You guys are stuck up. 
  • Pastor makes me feel comfortable because he doesn't wear a tie. 
  • Pastor is disrespectful because he doesn't wear a tie.
  • Pastor - we hate it, but our job is transferring us so this will be our last Sunday here. Thanks so much.
  • Pastor - we've put up with it long enough, but we don't like what this church is, and our feelings are hurt again, so we're leaving and this will be our last Sunday here. Please take us off all the email lists.
  • It's exciting to see what God is doing locally and globally through this church.
  • We're frustrated that so many other things are happening when we think the church should just meet here.
  • So glad we're able to engage globally on mission. Love our priorities.
  • We probably should keep more of the money we're giving to missions and just pay off this building. Hate our priorities.
  • We love you.
  • We don't like you.
  • You are such a caring person. 
  • You didn't visit me or my family member.

And all those comments likely came from the same service.

No, I didn't hear all those yesterday, but I have heard all those at some point. And, they're likely all true, at least from someone's perspective.

So, pastor, be encouraged. It's Monday. There will be more, but we don't serve the Lord for the applause of man, right? Yet, we do like that applause. 

I know it hurts when the negative statements come. They're taken personal, because regardless how they're prefaced...they are personal.

Hang in there. Next Sunday is going to be awesome...unless it isn't.

Just make sure you're prayed up and prepared to preach the gospel. Preach it clearly, unapologetically, and with love. Never compromise the truth. Never lean on your own understanding, or skillset, or personality, or ability to motivate, or speaking style, but lean only on Christ.

It's Monday. Never resign on a Monday.


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

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

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

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

Church Competition

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

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

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

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

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

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

Copy + Paste Programming

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

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

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

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Press on. Be encouraged.

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

 

 

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


Black History and White Pastors

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I'm Not Racist, But...

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

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

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

Racial Unity Must Be Gospel Unity

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

It may even be risky.

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

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

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

Unity in the Gospel

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

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

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

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

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

Happy Black History Month.