Thoughts on today's church

One of the disciplines I give a lot of time and thought to is asking how we can push our thoughts about the church to the very limit. In other words, how can we challenge ourselves in ways that bring more honor to God in the way that we do ministry.

Mark Driscoll is one of the masters in this category, so I'm posting a couple of short interview sections he did that have stretched my mind. Enjoy!

Driscoll on young leaders.

Driscoll on relating to sinners.

He has several more of these on YouTube, but these were the ones that challenged me the most.

How do you challenge your own mind and preconceptions?


Two Churches

I want to tell you about two churches.

A. Church A has money from tithing members. They invest it in normal things; building maintenance, a new music minister/youth pastor, and a monthly commitment to a missionary family in Africa whom they have met and like. They have a surplus. They invest the surplus:

-They expand the parking lot, get better coffee for the coffee hour, buy a set of drums for the church worship band, and begin a fundraising drive for an expanded front entryway.

-Church members are involved in fundraising, seeing plans for the expansions, auditioning to play the drums during the worship service, and choosing and serving the new coffee with all the extras (fancy creams, various types of sugar, coffee shop cups, etc.)

B. Church B has money from tithing members. They invest it in normal things; building maintenance, a new music minister/youth pastor, and a monthly commitment to a missionary family in Africa whom they have met and like. They have a surplus. They invest the surplus:

-They support a Christian camp that keeps costs low for kids in poorer families, and a local seminary that trains pastors, elders, and laypeople from the entire region (including pastors from suburbs, rural areas, and the inner city). They begin an internship program to train young men in their church to be elders, and a few to be pastors. They organize a service missions trip to help a poorer church in another area of the country.

-Church members counsel and work at the camp, attend classes at the seminary, participate in the internship or help train the interns, and support or go on the mission trip.

Do you know churches like these?

I do. Several of each, in fact. They are really compilations of things I’ve seen in various churches, but they highlight what I see as a big issue. I think a lot of churches are focused on themselves, and it shows up in their stewardship of resources (both financial and people resources).

See, churches like Church A are fairly predictable. They often just continue on their self-focused track, growing larger and larger. They become more and more exciting, more and more fun. They begin drawing weaker Christians away from other churches. They build a “Solid Rock Café” coffee ministry. They pull in people who might call themselves Christians, but won’t go to church unless it is fun and exciting. The sermons at these churches often become more life application focused and simple, but involve less of sin and hell and judgment and the gospel. They still support missionaries, but nobody really knows them.

In the end, one of two things usually happens. Either they pursue this direction efficiently, and become megachurches, or they pursue it ineffectively, and struggle with both size and content (often they eventually die). Either way, in my experience, they often are not a) spreading the gospel to areas that desperately need it, or b) producing spiritually mature disciples from among their membership.

Churches like Church B, though, are a lot harder to categorize. They orient their ministries to the context God has placed them in. They serve in whatever way best fits that context. Some of them start private Christian schools, or even colleges and seminaries. Some of them support gospel-proclaiming ministries in the local area. Some provide services to the needy or hurting, but carefully show that their love is because Christ loved first. They often have a much stronger culture of discipleship. They are often better at keeping track of and caring for people who are having a hard time. In my experience, these types of churches are generally better at promoting faithfulness to Scripture. Their membership is more spiritually mature. They fit many sizes, from living room assemblies to massive numbers. Either way, they seek to retain the qualities mentioned above. Not only do they know the missionaries they support, often those missionaries come from their congregation.

Now, I realize the obvious criticisms here. I am over generalizing, and the types of churches are much more fluid. There are plenty of struggling, faithful churches, and plenty of megachurches with wonderful ministries. There can be a lot of debate about whether supporting a local camp as an outreach to kids is truly more godly than building a Solid Rock Café as an outreach to kids.

That said, though, I have SEEN these trends with significant consistency. I have seen churches make self-centered stewardship decisions as if they are trying to make the Fortune 500, and I have seen it hurt the spiritual maturity of their members a few steps down the road. I have seen churches where a person can believe in contact with dead relatives or guardian angels and still be a children’s Sunday School teacher. I have seen places where more priority is given to the parking-lot ministry than training people to rightly interpret Scripture.

At the same time, I have seen the wonderful impact a gospel-centered church can have on its members and its community. People are trained in the gospel and evangelism, ministry and godly living. They are taught to give up their time and effort and skills and talent for the sake of the gospel and the building up of saints. Lives are changed, and efforts to proclaim Christ’s saving message go out all over the world. There is an aura of true worship.

Where does it begin? In some ways, it begins with stewardship. Stewardship of God’s grace, of the gift of the gospel, of the blessings of money and time and talent. If a church wants to be faithful, it must seek to manage the blessings God has given it in a way that honors Him. This means they will be radically committed to the gospel, will creatively work to expand the kingdom of God, and will care more about ministries that exalt the name of Christ than those that exalt the name of the church.

This is a key area of meditation for me. I want to be a church member or pastor that is committed to using my profession, my resources, and my gifts for the cause of the gospel, and not just the cause of my church. I want to launch new church plants, train new leaders and missionaries, see lives change and mature. I want to be able to look back at the end and know that all was in service to Christ, and that I was not just building my own little empire with a rockin’ band and great coffee.


The Church and The City

I have a lot of interest in urban planning. If I had not been called into ministry, I think I may have found my niche in city governance. So, one of my hobbies is to keep up on things that are happening in various cities. I also like to dream about city missions, because I think cities are often more hopeless, lost, and needful of the gospel than anything overseas.

I’m from Michigan, so I pay especially close attention to Detroit, which is falling apart. (If you don’t believe me, check out the archives of this Detroit blog) Here is an article from today’s Detroit Free Press… schools are closing all over the city, and the mayor is desperately trying to bring in any schools that he possibly can. And this from a city that has steadfastly refused the influence of most charter or private schools in the past!

I see this as an amazing opportunity. I mean, what better way to reach the inner city with the gospel than to open a solid private school funded as a sort of missionary outreach? A gospel-centered education, teachers who truly care, high educational standards… in fact, this is a pretty common approach among missionaries overseas.

So why do I feel so cynical about whether this will ever happen? Money and willingness. Evangelicals are quick to open their pocketbooks for parachurch ministries like InterVarsity (don’t get me started on THAT particular issue) or go on a missions trip to Mexico, but they steadfastly refuse to participate in significant ministries to the inner city. Unless, of course, you count donating used clothes to the Salvation Army or taking a youth group to serve at the soup kitchen once a year (which in my experience is much more for the youth group kids than it is for the needs of the city). I doubt moving into the city and establishing a ministry there is an option for most conservative Protestants these days.

I really believe churches, missions groups, denominations, and individual pastors and businessmen and educators need to think more seriously about the missions challenge presented by the city. After all, what was Paul’s missionary strategy but establish churches in influential cities? Granted there are a lot of differences between then and now, but there are some key similarities too.

What about you? Have you thought about how you will apply your trade, time, knowledge and energy? Do you want to go where you are most needed, or are you just looking to carve out a decent life somewhere in suburbia and give your tithe to a theologically accurate church?


The Deeper Life

The human heart has remarkable capacity for depth and beauty. You know the feeling.

Sometimes something is so exquisite that a lump swells in your throat and the tears start falling. Sometimes the joy of accomplishment overwhelms you and all seems right with the world. People go for long walks in the woods (or the shopping mall, depending on your personality!) to set their souls at peace. Athletes receiving gold medals sob with joy as their nation’s flag is raised and their anthem sung. Mothers glow with peace and contentment as they cuddle a newborn nestled in their arms.

Humans have a shared sense of longing, a desire for those things that are sweet and powerful and lovely. They will fight and die for concepts like love, honor, nobility, joy, or even sorrow.

In all these things, our hearts express powerful feelings in reaction to various circumstances or sensory experiences. Why did God create us this way? What are we to do with it?

I read an article by A.W. Tozer recently that I think captures precisely what I am getting at. He struggles with what it means to develop Christian maturity, and it talks about the very things I’ve been meditating on. I’ll use his general framework as a jumping-off point to share some thoughts.

First, the ground rules: Tozer points out that what he calls The Deeper Life must continue to be constrained by Scripture. As we explore the limits of emotional experience and intellectual maturity, we must be cautious not to let these things become ends unto themselves, nor should we pursue them for their own sake. Our understanding of The Deeper Life must square with the Bible.

By implication, we must pursue The Deeper Life as Christians. It will not do to call ourselves Christians, yet spend our time expanding and exploring emotional experience apart from the One who created it.

So then, here is our guiding definition:

The Deeper Life is the cultivation and expansion of our human ability to know, love, and honor God. Its purpose is to enhance our intimacy with God and expand our ability to glorify Him in our lives and in the world.

Hopefully this definition creates a picture in your mind of a person whose loves God, but wisely knows their love could be far greater. They use a variety of means (which we will discuss) to love and honor God more.

Tozer denotes five categories in which we develop intimacy with God. When we recognize these areas, we can then work to expand and deepen them in our lives to better know and honor him.

1. Our first union with God is judicial. By this, we mean that the most important relational tie between you and God is his Fatherhood over you, which is present because he has saved you by his grace. As we see in Ephesians 1:4, God, “chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him.” In other words, if you are a Christian, God has chosen you as his child, and you are clean in his sight through Christ’s atoning sacrifice on the cross.

The beginning of The Deeper Life, then, is to continually nurture our appreciation for the Gospel. It is our only hope of salvation; the only truly good news man has had since The Fall. We use it as our hermeneutic for the Bible and our hermeneutic for life. We cry out to God in gratitude for it. We remember it by the practice of communion, and we remind ourselves of our indebtedness throughout life. Above all, we must in gratitude preach and teach it to the ends of the earth. Christians are nothing without God’s judicial relationship to us.

Christian, ask yourself- do you love the Gospel? Are you constantly reminding yourself of it? Does it guide your thought process, your Bible study, your decision making? Does your life reflect profound gratefulness for God’s saving grace?

Suggested activities: Study Scripture continually and carefully. Read books on various aspects of the gospel. Listen carefully to stories and biographies of those whose lives have been changed by the gospel. Meditate on it, both by yourself and together with your church in communion. Learn to consider various topics, “in light of” the gospel.

2. Our second union with God is vital. By this, we literally mean that God’s blessing is the source of life and peace. In John 15:4-5, Christ says, “Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in me. I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing.”

For the Christian, this means recognizing that all our blessings, even our very lives, are dependent on the grace of God. We accept our lot with contentment, knowing that it is from God and that it is good. We honor him within our current context, rather than always wanting something more to be happy (the grass is greener on the other side, etc.) or even wanting more blessings before serving God. We praise him for the good things in our lives, and praise him also for hardships and discipline.

Christian, ask yourself- are you grateful and content with the blessings of God in your life? Do you recognize him as the source of all that happens to you for good or ill, and have you learned to appreciate both? Can people recognize that your health and vitality of spirit flow from the True Vine?

Suggested activities: Read The Rare Jewel of Christian Contentment, by Jeremiah Burroughs. Find small ways of reminding yourself that all you have is from God. Practice giving him the credit when good things happen, and practice praising him for his wisdom when bad things happen. Spend some time meditating on your life, seeing how God has used various circumstances to bring you to himself and prepare you for whatever lies ahead. Challenge yourself every time you want, “more,” to fulfill a personal rather than a godly desire.

3. Our third union with God is volitional.
This means that we are unified with him in our will. God has specific desires for our lives and for mankind. As his bondservants and as his children, we must seek to have that same will. We should want what he wants, fight for what he fights for. In short, the pursuits and goals of our lives should clearly reflect God’s own heart for the world.

Christians seem to have this idea that SOME people are pastors, and SOME people are missionaries to Africa or China, and everyone else is just supposed to carve out the most pleasant niche they can from the world in which they live. Frankly, that is wrong.

Every Christian should cultivate their will in such a way that when an outsider looks at their life, it clearly shows the same desires and priorities God has in Scripture. We should seek the proclamation of the gospel (in whatever area of life we inhabit), the expansion of the kingdom, and the glory of God. We need to honor God by our choice of career path, by the administration of our families, by our submission to Scriptural commands, and by the use of our gifts. The man who has talent in designing websites or leading camping trips has just as much responsibility to use what God has given him as does a pastor or missionary.

So then, we must saturate ourselves with the Word of God, so that we can know how to make discerning choices with our time and priorities. We must learn to want what God wants, and to orient ourselves to help accomplish those things in our local context. We must want to see the spiritual and numerical growth of the Church (both local and universal), desire to see God’s name lifted up, and long for souls to come to a saving knowledge of Jesus Christ.

Christian, ask yourself- do you know what God wants you to do tomorrow? Do you know what he wants to see happen in your church? Have you thought about how you can use the gifts he has given you to serve HIS priorities? Can you say with all honesty that you want what God wants?

Suggested activities: Write down a particular area of your life, be it free time, work and career, or family. Ask yourself… based on my understanding of Scripture, what does God want for that area? Do my desires match his? Do my activities show that I want what God wants? Read Charles Sheldon’s book, In His Steps. Study the lives of famous missionaries, especially how they gave up normal lives because of their desire to follow the will of God.

4. Our fourth union with God is intellectual.
God has given us minds that are capable of amazing things. We are fascinated by advances in science and industry, mathematics and innovation. Buildings grow taller, products last longer, coffee heats up faster. We process more information now reading the New York Times than most of the people in history could have learned in an entire lifetime.

As Christians, though, we must use our minds to expand our knowledge of God. This does not prevent involvement with science or art; in fact, it promotes it. When we use our minds, we are committed to developing and fleshing out our understanding of God through examination of various aspects of his character and creation. What is important here is that we use it for his glory. The Christian who makes their intellectual development God-centered will be blessed indeed, for they capture a small piece of what mankind could have been, and what heaven may very well be. They experience a world that is wise and orderly, beautiful and wondrous.

The Christian should expand their mind, growing in knowledge and discernment as they seek to be faithful with everything God has given. If you are a parent, you should learn as much as you can from other godly parents. If you are a nuclear physicist, you should do it with all the brilliance and competence God has given. Whatever your calling, the disciplined expansion of your ability to carry out the function God has blessed you with is an important part of binding yourself to God and affirming his lordship over your life.

Christian, ask yourself- have you been faithful with the abilities God has given you? Are you seeking knowledge, so that you can better honor him with it? Do you study, learn, read, discuss, and meditate to know him more fully? Can non-Christians look at your life and see that Christians are just as competent and intelligent as anyone else, but that they use it for a higher purpose?

Suggested activities: Learn the discipline of reading. Study Scripture, study your job, study books that give Christian guidance in regards to family and wisdom and life. Attend lectures to better understand the world around you. Keep up to date with the news without obsessing over it. Ask questions of the many intelligent Christians around you. Learn about Christian activities in the past and present. Don’t be afraid to use your mind for God’s purposes!

5. Our fifth union with God is emotional. This is an area I have alluded to before. Every person has a powerful emotional life, an area of the heart where joy and sorrow and anger and beauty slosh back and forth like waves in a storm. Our logical minds work to control them (with varying degrees of success), but it would be silly to deny them or ignore them completely. Why did God give us emotion, anyway?

The thing is, God himself is a deeply emotional being. He consistently displays joy and sorrow, anger and satisfaction. Could we truly love and honor him if we could not identify with this component of his nature? I doubt it. As weak and grainy reflections of God, we should embrace emotion. However, we need to work at simultaneously deepening it and guiding it.

On the one hand, emotion should be deepened. We must admit that our petty emotions will never compare to the power of God’s emotions, but we can seek to grow closer to his day by day. We should develop our ability to love, and cultivate our understanding of sorrow. We should be angered by sin, and should cry for the pain in the world.

In The Chosen (by Chaim Potok), Danny’s father cries out to God regarding his brilliant but arrogant son.

“A mind like this I need for a son? A heart I need for a son, a soul I need for a son, compassion I want from my son, righteousness, mercy, strength to suffer and carry pain, that I want from my son, not a mind without a soul!”

As Christians, we learn to embrace the powerful feelings that God has for this world. However, they must be guided by a correct understanding of God. Emotions set free can be chaotic, but when we focus our emotions on the character of God, we see him more clearly. Beauty, rather than pleasing self, points to the beauty of the Creator. Sorrow reminds us of the depth of our weakness and our desperate need for grace. Anger, no longer a weapon of personal vengeance, is a correct response to the ugliness of sin and exploitation. Happiness is no longer getting what you want, but is instead being thrilled with contentment at all that God has given.

The Christian who develops and deepens their emotion with this God-centered focus will find themselves a more able servant for him to use. They will be better able to identify with the suffering, and show greater compassion to those who hurt. They will be more thoughtful in leadership, more accessible in preaching and teaching. Their children will be given a more complete picture of God by their parents, and non-Christians will see the separateness and otherness of our faith. The Christian with a powerful and well-directed emotional life can be a beautiful tool in the hands of the Father.

Christian, ask yourself- are you learning to deepen your emotional experience? Do you allow yourself to feel things powerfully, and seek to feel them the way God feels them? Do you look to God for emotional guidance in the Bible, and learn to identify with his prophets? Are you seeking to understand the heart of God in the way that the Psalms, Song of Solomon, Ecclesiastes, and the Prophets do? Like Christ, can you view the world with joy and sorrow, anger and patience, disappointment and love?

Suggested activities: Read through the Psalms and the Prophets, spending time meditating on the emotions that they were experiencing. Read good poetry with an eye toward identifying with the human emotional experience. Leave the remote control lying on the coffee table when a Save the Children commercial comes on. Rent a documentary on conditions in third-world countries. Enjoy sports, and art, and human achievements, being careful to recognize how they display the wonder and beauty of God more than anything else. Cry with your friends when they hurt.

The Deeper Life and Union with God

A relationship begins when something forms a connection between two entities, like a string tied between two trees. It does not mean much, and it can be easily broken. But as the relationship develops, more and more strings are tied. A conversation here, a walk in the park there. A shared experience. Matching perspectives or opinions. A hug.

Eventually, the two are tied together by so many bonds at so many levels and in so many ways that it would be nearly impossible to break them. They are inextricably linked, sharing a closeness that no outsider can challenge. They have created intimacy, and the bonds cannot be broken by anything short of betrayal or a more intimate bond somewhere else.

Christian, as one who has been redeemed by the grace of God, it is your duty to pursue that type of intimacy with him. It is your responsibility to develop every aspect of your relationship with him and your understanding of him. It is your calling to honor him by knowing and reflecting him as clearly as possible. It must be your joy to try to be like him in every aspect.

In his chapter on maturity, Tozer says that the result of building this intimacy with God is freedom from loves and freedom from fears. In other words, by cultivating the bonds of intimacy with God above all others, we are freed from the idolatry of love for the things of this world. In addition, we are removed from the fear of anything that the world can throw at us. We become increasingly independent, functioning not as fearful pleasers of self, but as joyful servants of God.

Do you desire that type of life? Would it be your joy to honor God by being more like him, acting more like him, and displaying his beauty to the world? Christian, pursue maturity and intimacy.

Be united with God judicially in his Gospel. Repent of your sin, receive his gift of redemption by faith, and set him as Lord and Master of your life. Study and understand and explain and share and proclaim his glorious gift.

Be united with God vitally as the source of your life and being. Recognize that he is the source of all that is good, your only hope for existence. Pray to him for strength and guidance. Look to his Word for knowledge and understanding and direction.

Be united with God volitionally as you serve him and honor his desires. Learn the will of God from Scripture. Make the expansion of his kingdom your priority, and organize your life to reflect that priority.

Be united with God intellectually by using the gifts he has given. Study thoroughly to excel in your vocation and life situation. Ask questions to know more about God and his world and his desires. Do not be afraid of hard questions, but ask them and pursue them knowing that God is able to answer.

Be united with God emotionally as you seek to know his heart. Experience the power of beauty and emotion, and learn how to connect your heart to that of the Father. Love God deeply, and cultivate disciplines in your life that will help you love him even more deeply. Utilize your emotions to reflect God as clearly as you are able to all who come into contact with you.

Remember our definition of The Deeper Life?

The Deeper Life is the cultivation and expansion of our human ability to know, love, and honor God. Its purpose is to enhance our intimacy with God and expand our ability to glorify Him in our lives and in the world.

Be united to God. Be free from love of the world. Be free from fear of the world. Experience The Deeper Life, glorify your Father in heaven, and prepare for the joy that awaits you.


The Beautiful Things

I've been in a funny mood the last day or two. I've been wondering how a Christian should interact with things that are beautiful and transcendent. If you think about it, there isn't a whole host of guidance in this area from Scripture, especially when it comes to secular things. Anyways, I plan on writing an article about it. Until then, I want to do two things.

First, I want to post a few video clips, so you can see some of the things that I think are beautiful. There are more, of course, but these are just a few I happened to grab. Let me know what you think! #4 is my favorite.

Second, I'm curious about what YOU think is beautiful! If you read this, leave me a comment or send me an e-mail with a couple websites or youtube clips to let me know what inspires you, maybe even brings you to tears. I'm curious to see what you folks enjoy. Now that I actually have a few readers, it would be nice to get feedback!

Here are a few things that I think are absolutely beautiful. All four have either inspired me or brought me to tears.

Nessun Dorma
Cradle of Leadership
Chariots of Fire
Tosca and the Heart of a Champion

Let me know what some of yours are!


Shopping with Big Eyes

Samantha and I went shopping today. I hate food shopping. I'd rather read a book. Or go for a walk. Or beat my head repeatedly against the wall.

My loving wife knows this, so when she wants me to go shopping with her, she waits until it's nearing dinner time. I'm not a big eater, but even I get hungry. So, we go shopping.

Then, when we get to the store, she walks through at a slow, deliberate pace. She takes the cart and picks up the things we need. Meat, vegetables, fruit, milk, juice, and a couple of her favorite snacks.

Meanwhile, I wander around aimlessly and pick up anything that strikes my fancy. Cheeze-its, chips, pop, coffee, hot dogs, etc. Oh, and of course chocolate syrup!

See, I tend to shop with my eyes. If I'm not hungry, I don't buy anything (this includes the essentials, which is why living alone is a bad idea for me). If I'm hungry, though, I'm a lot like the kid holding a hammer, to whom everything is a nail. EVERY snack looks good when you're starving for any snack!

So, that was my afternoon. It's a good thing my wife is wise... I get my snacks, she gets her shopping trip, and I never have much reason to complain.


Peace and Unity in the Church

Here's a paper I wrote up to present to my Shepherding Group.

"Whether the fiery trial of contention or of persecution is greater is hard to determine. God has wrought to free us from the one; we have brought upon ourselves the other. Every man is angry that others are not of his mind."

-Jeremiah Burroughs

"We are… concerned that God’s glorious purpose for Christ’s church is often eclipsed in concern by so many other issues, programs, technologies, and priorities. Furthermore, confusion over crucial questions concerning the authority of the Bible, the meaning of the Gospel, and the nature of truth itself have gravely weakened the church in terms of its witness, its work, and its identity.

We stand together for the Gospel- and for a full and gladdening recovery of the Gospel in the church. We are convinced that such a recovery will be evident in the form of faithful Gospel churches, each bearing faithful witness to the glory of God and power of the Gospel of Jesus Christ."

-T4G Statement

"I therefore, a prisoner of the Lord, urge you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace."

-Ephesians 4:1-3

Peace in the church is a tough issue. What does it even mean? How do you know that it’s there, or that it has ended? When should a pastor sacrifice theological preference for unity, and vice versa? When is it ok to make a decision that you know will split a church? Perhaps most important, how do you seek peace and unity without losing hold of the truth?

These and a million other questions with varying degrees of importance come up in the life of most any churchman, especially local leaders. How should they be dealt with?

My own understanding of disagreement in the church began in my Plymouth Brethren church back home. There, disagreement in the church regarded things like whether women can speak in the worship service. It was strong and peaceful in most ways, but we had our share of people leave fellowship because they couldn’t handle certain changes.

Later in life, I was part of an American Baptist Church. Here the issues became tougher, because the church had disagreement in a variety of areas. Egalitarianism vs. Complementarianism, what to do with the missions budget, how church governance should be structured, what should be taught in Sunday School, things like that. I learned to hammer out compromises. We also learned what it was to love each other in the midst of disagreement. I enjoyed attending the Together for the Gospel Conference during this time, but the theological agreement there seemed pretty distant from my local church.

Finally, I came here to Louisville. I assumed churches full of seminary students would easily agree on most things. But sure enough I’ve seen churches struggling through the same questions regarding degree of discipline, strength in the statement of faith, and disagreement on church direction.

There are many ways we could discuss this issue, many avenues we could explore. From a personal standpoint, I have done a lot of reading and discussing with friends and mentors as I try to work the various perspectives out in my mind. However, today I want to focus on one in particular.

How can we, as future pastors and leaders, prepare ourselves for the disagreements that are inherent to almost every local church?

First, here are a couple Bible passages that I found to be helpful:

Philippians 2:1-7

So if there is any encouragement in Christ, any comfort from love, any participation in the Spirit, any affection and sympathy, complete my joy by being of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind. Do nothing from rivalry or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others. Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men.

Romans 15:1-3
We who are strong have an obligation to bear with the failings of the weak, and not to please ourselves. Let each of us please his neighbor for his good, to build him up. For Christ did not please himself, but as it is written, “The reproaches of those who reproached you fell on me.”

Colossians 3:12-15
Put on then, as God's chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience, bearing with one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive. And above all these put on love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony. And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in one body. And be thankful.

As we can see here, Paul views the problem of maintaining unity as one that begins within ourselves. The answer is a constant humbling of ourselves, by considering others better than us, by not causing others to stumble, by being an example, and by promoting a culture of gentleness and forbearance.

You can see a unity-loving attitude of the heart in the work of Jeremiah Burroughs. Burroughs was a Puritan pastor who wrote many great books and sermons. As he neared the end of his life, he wrote a sermon series that became a book called Irenicum, which I have been reading of late. In that book, he gives 5 rules for knowing in what areas we should bear with our brethren. They are a tad wordy, so I’ve put them into my own words.

Burroughs Rules to Know in What Things We Are to Bear With Our Brethren

1.) Do not use overly restrictive rules to highlight differences in non-essential theological convictions. If a man is willing to hold his area of small difference quietly and in submissive peace, don’t attempt to force him to chose between the church and his conscience.

2.) Do not spend your time and focus on stamping out non-essential errors.
Focus instead on preaching the whole counsel of God.

Consider these things:

-God chooses to reveal some things, “darkly,” and we should not seek to prosecute our perspective on those things more harshly than Christ ever did.

-Sinful men have no right to strain justice to the limits of uncharitable perfectionism.

-We should be more forbearing in the things we enforce than in our personal practice. Remember, you are responsible for those you lead in a particular direction!

-We should not take and use more power over men than the Apostles did.

-Perfectionism tends to stifle discussion and growth in faith and practice.

-Perfectionism encourages idleness and pride in a congregation and its leaders.

-Perfectionism encourages ignorance.

-This spirit in a church encourages rejection of new insights.

3.) Do not cast a person out of the church but for something ALL churches should cast them out for.

4.) Do not hinder great goods for the sake of opposing small evils.

5.) Do not seek to fight evils that can only be removed by God.

With these and other authors and situations, I am slowly learning what it means to love both truth and peace, and to pursue them simultaneously.

So today, based on the things God has been teaching me, I leave you with three exhortations:

First, develop your theological triage while you are here in seminary. Dr. Mohler likes to use this metaphor, where nurses in a hospital are able to determine which are the most important injuries vs. the least important. As a pastor or elder, it will be up to you to know which issues are of theological necessity, like the gospel or Christ’s divinity, which issues separate churches, like credo- vs. paedo- baptism, and which issues can be dealt with through humble forbearance together in the church, like eschatology. Now is the time to start fleshing out your understanding of which categories these issues fall into.

Second, use your time here to cultivate personal discernment. This means that we should take every opportunity to learn from our professors, pastors, elders, and other students. We should share ourselves with them, so that they can better give us wise advice and the knowledge that comes from experience. Your future churches will be thankful that you cared enough about their welfare to learn as much as you could about peace and unity in the church without fudging on the Truth.

Third, look for opportunities, as a member or leader in your local church, to promote godly unity. As Ephesians points out, this sort of mature, gospel-centered unity is the purpose of the church and a reflection of God’s glory.

Brothers, joining hand to hand
Brothers, joining hand to hand,
In one bond united,
Pressing onward to that land
Where all wrongs are righted:
Let your words and actions be
Worthy your vocation;
Chosen of the Lord, and free,
Heirs of Christ’s salvation.


Thinking About: Membership

This week, Lord willing, Samantha and I will have an interview regarding becoming members at Third Avenue Baptist Church. Hopefully, we will later be voted into membership by the congregation.

The process has given me cause for reflection. I have only been a member of two churches before this; one Plymouth Brethren, and one American Baptist. Third Avenue does a good job of laying out answers for why a Christian should be a member of a local church, but I really have no struggle with why membership at a local church is important. My question for myself is this- why do I choose to be a member of a particular local church? In other words, what tends to drive my decisions regarding the church I tend to serve? And more importantly, what are some of the principles that can be replicated in other times and places?

The questions may seem simple, but the answers get sticky very quickly. For instance, it can be uncomfortable telling my seminary friends that even though there was a gospel-centered, complementarian, theologically solid church (besides the paedo-baptism) just up the road, I chose to attend an egalitarian, theologically questionable church. Worse yet, I dragged Samantha away from the first church toward the second church when we got engaged! How do I come to these decisions?

I'm sure this isn't comprehensive, but here are a few things that I ask myself when I'm preparing to join a church in a new situation. After each question, I'll "answer" it in two different ways- first from my perspective in joining a less theologically solid church in college (UBC), then from my perspective here at seminary.

Q1: Where am I at in my spiritual walk? Am I in need of clear teaching about the basics of the faith? Will I need lots of guidance on issues of discernment? Am I seeking to help develop the church, or be guided by it?

A1: In college, I was constantly learning from reading theological books. No pastor in the world would have had the time to answer my questions as fast as I had them, so my primary source of learning was to find the answers in books and articles. Instead, I was looking for a place where I could build close relationships with people of a variety of ages. I knew that it was easy for me to relate to kids my own age, and that I needed the discipline of struggling through different types of relationships. I also believed that I should be learning to teach, and needed a church that would give me opportunities to do that.

A1b: Here at seminary, I don't have the amount of time I would need to teach as consistently as I did back in Lansing. Further, I know that some of Louisville's churches are blessed with intelligent and godly leaders. Samantha and I view our time here as one of learning, and we felt a church should assist that process. At the same time, I am someone who learns more from discipleship than from lectures. We wanted a church where we could grow in knowledge and understanding, but still have close relationships and godly discipleship.

Q2: What is my purpose? How do I view this time period in my life? Am I settling in at this church for the rest of my life, or for the short term? How does this church fit my understanding of what God is doing in my life?

A2: This was a huge part of my decision in college. I knew I would only be in Lansing temporarily, and that was very freeing. Further, I knew that I would not be likely to have kids during my time there. When I chose a church, I did not need to worry that bad theology would hurt my family or confuse them. Instead, I could focus on using my time there to prepare for whatever God had next for me. I looked for a church that could facilitate relationships, teaching opportunities, and situations that would prepare me for the next stage of life.

A2b: Here at seminary, our purposes are once again temporary. We will likely be moving on eventually, so we seek a church that will complement the seminary experience. We still want to serve and be involved, but in less of a teaching and more of a serving role. At the same time, we want to develop our ability to teach through discipleship and friendships.

Q3: How do I intend to serve?

A3: In Lansing I was able to serve by leading the college ministry, serving as a deacon, leading a small group, and teaching Sunday School for two and a half years. This proactive type of service could best be carried out in a smaller, tired church where few people are willing to "take the reigns." Further, a lower knowledge level allows greater interaction when you teach new ideas or concepts, because people had not considered the implications of the teaching before.

A3b: In Louisville, I won't have the same amount of preparation time for a teaching ministry. However, discipleship can be carried out without much preparation. I'm excited to serve the church through relationships and fellowship. Further, I'll look to find ways to help move various ministries forward, whether through helping out those who lead them or through sharing ideas and experiences I've had.

Q4: What is my time here preparing me for? How is it changing or developing my spiritual walk?

A4: In Lansing, I needed time with people of various ages, and opportunities to serve. In many ways, it was like an internship, because I experienced many of the ups and downs a church leader must deal with in a church setting. UBC was great at giving me all those opportunities. Also, the pastor was extremely kind in teaching me about every area of ministry. Though he and I didn't agree on some things, he was a great mentor for me in church leadership service.

A4b: At Third, Samantha and I are looking to learn more developed theology, from a Reformed perspective that we tend to have more trust for. We see this as a time of learning, in greater detail, how to correctly divide and teach the Word of God. Further, I hope to learn from the lives of so many men who are godlier than I how to work through various areas of theology and discernment.

Q5: How can I best glorify God right now? This is the ultimate question, and one that involves all the others.

A5: In Lansing, I really believe God called me to prepare for full-time ministry by leading, teaching, and being actively involved in a small and theologically weak church. We saw him work through that service, as many came to understand conservative Reformed theology in an egalitarian American Baptist Church! I have no doubt that our desire to be faithful glorified him even in a theologically weaker church.

A5b: In Louisville, we are once again seeking to be faithful. We decided against two other churches (both wonderful, faithful churches) because we are trying to honor the context God has placed us in as best we can. If the Lord wills, we will soon be a part of a church where we can participate in a strong discipleship culture, bring a unique perspective as non-Southern Baptist northerners, and learn from minds much more gifted than our own.

I hope you've seen here (despite my oft-awkward way of communicating myself) that church membership is not about going to whichever church clings most tightly to the most accurate statement of faith (though that is one valuable thing churches should strive for). Instead, it's about trying to honor God with the context, gifting, and life pursuit He has given you. For Samantha and I, this means Third Avenue Baptist, and we could not be more excited!


An Excellent Wife and a Gracious God

Recently, in my New Testament class, we were discussing Paul’s comment that it is, “better,” to be single, as he was. The professor affirmed that some are called to singleness, and can be more effective as a result. However, he also pointed out that he was much more effective in his service to God, “in every way,” thanks to his wife. In other words, a person’s most effective service to God comes by following His will for their life, be it single or married.

That has been so true for me today. I am working really hard to be excellent in all my classes, but today I realized I had forgotten to do an assignment, and as a result will have some points docked when I turn it in. I came home extremely annoyed, which quickly spiraled into a depressed frustration. I hated my forgetfulness, my weakness, and my inability to process information as quickly as my peers. I didn’t want to eat, or talk, or even apply myself to finishing the assignment.

Thankfully, Samantha patiently waited out my bad mood. She suggested that we call our friends Dave and Lindsay, knowing that talking to them always makes me feel happy. I had a soothing talk with Dave, which calmed me and reminded me how much I enjoy seeing people grow in faith. Samantha also made me chocolate-covered strawberries, which would make anyone happy!

Later, she shared her thoughts with me regarding one of our favorite books, The Rare Jewel of Christian Contentment. If you’re a longtime reader, you might remember that this book helped be greatly just after my mom died about a year ago. You can see that post here. Samantha’s post is better, though. You can find it here. You’ll see that the book helped continue to transfer her worldview from one of worrying and needing to be, "the provider," to one of recognizing her God-given role in our family. It was a deeply humbling and yet exciting blessing of God to watch Him do this work, which I have desired to see for a while now.

Conversations about this topic kick-started my excitement and vision for the local church. Samantha has been encouraging me to write about my vision for a local church. I’m not sure if I’ll do a paper on it (when I have the time) or put it into a series of blog posts, but I think she’s right that I should start putting my heart on paper, as it were.

Anyway, the result of all this is that I’m back to work, trying to supplement the heart God has given me for His work with the knowledge that will make it more effective. I’m so thankful to God for my wife’s love and encouragement, for the opportunity to be at a seminary where I can learn so much from so many godly mentors, and for his constant love and teaching and discipline. What a failure I would be without a loving Heavenly Father!

Once again, I must call upon my friends, the Puritans, to dignify with words those emotions I cannot fully express.

A wife when she marries a husband gives up her will to him; so does every Christian when he is married to Christ; he gives up his will and all that he has to Him, and says, "Lord, I have nothing, but if Thou callest for it, Thou shalt have it again."
-Richard Sibbes