It is a common phrase spoken by Christians and wrestled with by pastors, “I don’t feel connected at church.” The pastoral burden is for all Christians to be thriving in and through the ministry. When we hear something like this we immediately go into “fix-it” mode. Often times we even attempt to construct some structure around the person to help them feel connected.
But what if this didn’t help anyone? What if the problem wasn’t the ministry but the individual? What if the disconnection we feel is actually the consequence of selfishness?*
Catering to selfishness will never cure selfishness, it only fortifies it.
We are thankful that the Bible addresses a wide variety of questions and issues. Throughout church history we have been able to have many important questions answered by the Scriptures. At the same time this comprehensive biblical coverage provides answers that occasionally make people uneasy. Often times these topics are referred to as “controversial issues.” Some people want to avoid talking about these things and others enjoy it. The former out of a distaste for controversy and the latter out of a craving for it. Still others find these topics important and aim to cut through the fog to show what the Bible teaches and why it is important for the church to think through.
As a pastor I meet a lot of people who are looking for a church. One of the most helpful questions I can ask is, “What are you looking for in a church?” In one sense I hate this question because of the way it can reinforce our American consumer mindset. At the same time it gets right to the point. They are looking for something.
Then there is the other side of the spectrum, people who leave a church. It is basically the back door answer to the front door question, “What were you unhappy about in this church?”
What I have found is that most people do not filter what they looking for in a church through the Bible as much as through their previous experiences or personal ideals. Some of the most common things that I’ve seen in the last 10 years of pastoral ministry include the following:
There are many factors that make evangelism difficult. There is the internal spiritual alienation from God that renders the unbeliever unimpressed by God and therefore unresponsive to him in worship (Col. 1:21; 2 Cor. 4:4-6). Then there is the fog of worldliness that reinforces the heart’s unsubmissiveness to God and his Word (1 Jn. 2:16-17). We see this with the ongoing marketing of personal autonomy, self-discovery, and satisfaction in created things.
But there is another contributor to the fog that is very unhelpful. I am talking about the authority of personal experience. Today our personal experience and personal interpretation of that experience is the unquestionable authority that all must submit to.
Earlier this week I was talking to a number of unbelievers about Jesus. In the midst of the conversation one told me that he can see the future. He said that he has, on a few occasions, been able to see what was going to happen. He pointed to his buddy for confirmation and, as you’d expect, got the requisite head nod. I know that in this conversation I cannot slash the tires of his experience. If I even pull out the knife of reason or testing he will shut me down. Personal experience and our interpretation of it is the authority. We might call it Sola Experiencia.
I grew up playing and watching a lot of baseball. It was almost a religion for me and Fenway Park in Boston was my church (so to speak). To further the illustration, the elders and leaders were players on the Red Sox. I think of Roger Clemens, Dwight Evans, Jim Rice, and Carl Yastrzemski. When I would arrive at Fenway I can remember walking out of the tunnel and being overcome by all of the images and sounds. There was the fresh cut grass, the 37′ wall in left field, the Prudential Building, and the sight of the players warming up. I was absolutely invested–I might have even secretly felt like I was on the team.
Several years ago one of these players, Roger Clemens, was investigated for cheating. He was found to have used performance enhancing drugs, or banned substances. Clemens, along with a bevy of other players, have received something of an asterisk on their career because they have dishonored the sacred tradition and integrity of the game.
As a baseball fan I can appreciate the way the league, players, and fans have renounced the way these guys tried to take a short-cut. Some players cared more about themselves than the game. This, according to baseball is unacceptable.
Who are the most influential Evangelicals in the US?
Thom Rainer, the president and CEO of LifeWay Christian Resources, conducted an informal survey of people that, according to Rainer, “are very knowledgeable about the evangelical scene in the United States.”
Ok, sounds promising. If there are any lingering doubts Rainer adds, “The respondents represent a cross section of denominational and non-denominational churches and entities. From my perspective, those I surveyed are clearly evangelicals themselves.”
Over the last several months I have received a number of questions or comments about how pastors speak. On one level there is concern and on another just a genuine question. Before going any further we have to ask if there is any standard of language for a pastor. The answer is yes.
“Let no one despise you for your youth, but set the believers an example in speech, in conduct, in love, in faith, in purity.” (1 Timothy 4:12)
Rather than giving a cause for offense at what they say a young pastor is to set the pace for holiness in his words, life, love, faith and purity (cf. also 1 Pet. 5:4). Paul also tells Timothy to watch his life and his doctrine (1 Tim. 4:16). Neglect of one will undermine the other.
There are many different ways a pastor may be derelict in his duty. The most common and obvious would be his morality. If a man is not reflecting the doctrine that he is teaching then his ministry is a sham. We know that there are moral qualifications for the office of elder (1 Tim. 3:1-8). At the same time the pastor must be biblical in his doctrine; he must have a firm grasp on the truth. If he is in error doctrinally then his congregation will suffer. As a result Paul gives many encouragements to this end in 2 Timothy alone (2 Tim. 1:6-7, 13-14; 2:15; 4:1-4, etc). This culminates with the pastoral inclusio to watch your life and your doctrine closely (1 Tim. 4:16).
There is another aspect where a minister of the gospel may go wrong, and I fear it is becoming increasingly neglected or at least overlooked. He must give attention to his tone. The pastor is to be firmly committed to the truth while maintaining a tone that is consistent with the truth. In other words, truth and tone go hand-in-hand. If I might take some liberty, “what God has joined together, let no man separate.”
I’m that guy that opens up the hood of his car when something goes wrong and stares at everything waiting for a big on/off switch to suddenly appear. I have no idea what I’m doing. If someone came by and said I needed to to replace this filter or pump or spray this stuff or get a new whatever rod, I’d do it. I don’t understand how stuff fits together and the relationship between the parts. I am proficient at turning the key and driving (at a high-level, mind you).
I do respect the heck out of a guy who knows how stuff (technical term) fits together. I trust them.
When I look at some of the trends in Evangelicalism, and in particular the Gospel-Centered movement, I wonder if pastors are more like the mechanic or the mechanically challenged guy. What I mean is, are pastors just looking for the “on-off” switch or do they actually know how things fit together? Do they understand the implications of doing or saying certain things? Do they understand (even a little bit) church history and historical theology?
Let me give you an observation of where we seem to be and then a theological proposition as to why this makes no sense.
All the talk and controversy about plagiarism has made me somewhat uncomfortable. When I listened to the infamous interview between radio host Janet Mefford and Pastor / Author Mark Driscoll I was haunted by a phrase. I don’t know if it is an exact quote or not but it went like this, “You are stealing his ideas.”
I am a pastor. My whole life and ministry is about regurgitating someone else’s ideas. I believe it was Charles Hodge who said that he never had an original thought or idea. We read, listen, talk, think, integrate, pray, and listen. This is what we do. In one very real sense pastors don’t know what is original and what is not. Even our sermon outlines have a family tree.
President Obama remains in hot water for his selfie with Denmark’s Prime Minister Helle Thorning-Schmidt and British Prime Minister David Cameron at the memorial service for Nelson Mandela. People are outraged not only at the setting, a service for a deceased dignitary, but also the act itself (unbecoming, juvenile, and narcissistic).
The fact is we are a world of selfies. Oxford Dictionary named selfie the word of the year in 2013. Even if we cringe at other people incessantly taking and posting personal portraits of themselves, we do it ourselves (even if we feel kind of dirty for doing it). The term selfie is a perfect term for us. We are a people who are uncomfortably and unhealthily drawn towards ourselves. And we like drawing other people to ourselves. We are, after all, about ourselves.
Selfie-ness is not new. It has been around since the Garden of Eden when Adam and Eve decided to make the world about themselves rather than God. They wanted God to be the supporting actor in story of their lives.
Delayed adolescence is a reality in American families. There is no disputing the massive increase in number of young people that choose to live with their parents late into their 20’s and in some cases into their 30’s. Insurance companies have taken notice of this and have extended coverage of “children” well into the mid to late 20’s. There is no surprise then that while adolescence is prolonged the expreriences that correspond with being an adult are decreasing. Marriages are decreasing while video games sales are increasing. The delayed adolescence of the American youth is a fascinating and increasingly troubling trend.
But I am not a sociologist. I am a pastor. My concern is with the attitude and culture of delayed adolescence in the church. More specifically, I am not here thinking primarily about the evangelical culture that tends to awkwardly squirm away from and therefore curiously mute the conversation of male leadership in the church. I am thinking far more broadly than even this, to the philosophy and theological vision of churches that cultivate and promote a delayed doctrinal adolescence in the church.
If you are a Christian then you have convictions. If you are a Christian who knows other Christians then you probably have realized that we don’t all agree on everything. As a result, it is incumbent upon those who name Christ to consider how we engage with those who have different doctrinal foundations and ministry expressions. The two loudest arguments we hear are those who tend to be overly critical and those who tend to be overly accepting. On the one side folks want to limit their full affirmation and support of a teacher and ministry to those within their “tribe” (referring to people just like them). Others, resisting this, build a big tent and welcome as many people in there as they can.
As I have thought about this more and more I find it ironic that both sides are after the same thing: influence. One side wants to protect people by minimizing it and others want to influence people by expanding it. It is truly fascinating to watch and observe.
No, I am not retreating or backsliding or apostatizing into Roman Catholicism or other synergistic form of salvation. I am simply restating the truth that the Bible declares. You are saved by works.
Let me elaborate and clarify the statement: You are saved by works, just not your works. If you are saved, you are saved based upon the works, the merits, the doing and dying of Jesus. This is the truth of the gospel.
By now most people have heard of the suicide of Rick Warren’s son, Matthew. Over the weekend the news broke and all parents, particularly Christian parents felt sympathy for Rick and Kay Warren.
Well, apparently not all.
Sadly, many people and even many professing Christians are taking this opportunity to express their lack of support for and even opposition to Warren’s ministry. Cathy Lynn Grossman, writing in USA Today noted that many Atheists, proponents of same-sex marriage, and even professing Christians are publicly piling on the wounded Warrens.
As I read the article and some of the related comments I became frustrated but not surprised by non-Christians kicking him while he is down. While I don’t like it, I understand it theologically and experientially. However, I do not understand and am frankly disgusted by any professing Christian who would use this opportunity to land a cheap punch in the emotional kidneys. You don’t do that. Far from kicking a man when he is down Christians are to come alongside their brothers and sisters who are hurting, to bear their burdens with them (Gal. 6.2), weeping with those who weep (Rom. 12.15).
There is absolutely no place for this type of thing from any professing Christian. And shame on you if you are doing this. This would be wrong behavior if such a tragedy happened in the life of an unbeliever, much less a fellow brother and sister in Christ. Those who do so unwittingly undermine their own message and demonstrate a shockingly ironic level of a lack of discernment and theological maturity. If you happen to come across such rubbish I hope that you would boldly call it what it is and direct them to a more Christ-like path.
Sarcasm is a sword that when wielded deftly can get to hard to reach places in the storehouse of our pride. Some people grab the sword of sarcasm and swing it carelessly, resulting in others getting hurt and embarrassed. Others grab the sword like a literary knight going to work with surgical precision and we are all the better for it.
Carl Trueman is of the latter category. Trueman is deep thinker, adroit writer, and a pastoral theologian. In his book Fools Rush in Where Monkeys Fear to Tread: Taking Aim at Everyone, Trueman looks critically at the landscape of evangelicalism and appeals for Christians to do the same. Along the way he narrates his observations and conclusions in short, arresting, essays.
If you have not read any of Trueman, either on his blog or in his other books, this would be a terrific introduction into his writing. There is a certain style with which he writes that is simultaneously humorous, painful, prophetic, and pastoral. As a guy who is Reformed, (relatively) young, and pastor who has a blog–I am a prime candidate to be greatly offended by Trueman. But I’m not. I’m very thankful for him. His words were particularly helpful for me over my Christmas vacation.
I was recently watching David Platt’s T4G sermon (highly recommended) and was struck by how much he looked like Tom Brady. Occasionally I’d have to untangle my mind as I thought Brady was telling me that I needed to be willing to go and die for world missions. That got me thinking about some other evangelicals who look like other notable figures. Here is a short-list. Add more in the comments if you got ‘em.
David Platt and Tom Brady.
Mark Driscoll from and Joba Chamberlin from University of Nebraska (& that pro team in NY)
Then you have this remarkable pairing:
Peter Sellers (from The Pink Panther)
Ray Comfort (from Way of the Master)
Who else do you have? (And it is not valid to do the whole “Tim Keller & Yoda” comparison).
I love preaching. I love to preach myself and I love to hear others preach. Preaching is a God-ordained means of grace (1 & 2 Timothy). It is a good gift of God given for our blessing and benefit. But like so many blessings from God we can elevate them to become a distraction or even an idol.
In my young pastoral career (7 years) I have seen some unintended consequences of my love for preaching. I have observed a few ways in which my love for preaching has hurt our church. These observations do not diminish my love, appreciation, or priority of preaching. Instead, they helped me to regain pastoral balance and focus.
Here then are a few ways in which the idolatry of preaching can hurt your church: Continue Reading…
This video is just the type of thing that will be played repeatedly to promote the caricature of Christianity. As I type it is going viral and doing just that.
Let me be clear: this guy is a horrible representation of Christ and his church. He should be removed from the pulpit. Pastors are to be setting the example of speech, conduct, love, faith and purity (1 Tim. 4.12). This guy strikes out on 3 pitches.
Last week I wrote about challenges for evangelicals amid this new season of sexual debate. This is exactly what I was saying not to do.
It means that we better be clear about the problem. Far too many times I have heard evangelicals talk about homosexuality like our job was to get them to become heterosexual. If we can just get them to be straight then our work is done. The Christian objective in missions is to see people become Christians! This means that we want to see all sexual sinners become worshipers of Jesus. This includes fornicators, adulterers, porn-addicts, homosexuals, or whatever other category you can think up. The goal is to become a believer who turns from the worship of self to the worship of God. It is to turn from rebellion that is characterized by the suppression of truth to the submission that is characterized by obedience to the truth (Rom. 1.18-25; 3.19-27). The central issue is worship, or idolatry. The central answer is always the gospel.
It means that we better be clear about our tone. Can you lovingly engage a homosexual with the gospel in a winsome, tactful and still faithful way? Can you love them? This is really a question that I think evangelicals need to wrestle with and decidedly answer “yes, we must!” Pivoting out of the points above, that is out of the gospel, we have to see our own weakness and neediness. Who among us is not needy of the grace of Christ? Then we must lovingly and faithfully talk to others about it. If you can’t get control of yourself and speak the words of grace and truth to someone who is straight or gay then you need to ask God to give you a bigger heart. Ask him to shake you of pride and work gospel compassion down into you. I know that God is saving a lot of people from a gay lifestyle and I pray that he will continue to do so. As missionaries we need to speak and act like we actually want him to.
Should churches actively speak to political issues? This is a question that comes up whenever an election cycle is upon us. In this morning’s edition of USA Today in an article entitled Churches Tread Lightly in Politics in 2012 the contention is that churches are getting the message and staying away from political issues:
Instead, they’re revamping how congregations mobilize voters by focusing on a broader set of issues than in the past. Preachers are largely avoiding the political fray, and hot-button social issues are relegated to simmer in low-profile church study groups.
Why? For one, Americans are growing impatient with religious politicking: 54% want houses of worship to keep out of politics (up from 52% in 2008 and 43% in 1996), according to the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life. Churches seem to be responding.
Is this right? Are churches compromising their mouthpiece that could bring social change?