How to Make a Growing Church Feel Small

A growing church can be a blessing and a burden. By “growing” (in this article) I mean, numerically. Every pastor wants to see numerical growth in their church because it means people are coming into contact with the gospel. That’s the power source for conversion (Romans 1:16). Conversely, no pastor with convictions about being a biblical shepherd wants to see the church grow so large it cannot be served faithfully. People should know and be known by their leaders. No matter how “big” things get, pastors and leaders must remain proactive in finding strategies to oversee the spiritual health of the flock in personal ways. That’s not to say every person attending a growing church will want to be known–some will undoubtedly try to blend in and scurry out the door afterwards–but pastors do well to teach people that soul-care matters. Caring for souls is difficult–even impossible–if herds of people are shuttled in and out of a building without intentional connection points.

Even for churches that may not be experiencing rapid growth, caring for a flock can be difficult when that flock is living life at a rapid pace. Here in Orange County, our church has been steadily growing between 30-50 members per year over the past 4 years. That’s not record-breaking growth, but it’s not underwhelming either. Still, the most difficult pace to keep up with is the pace of life that people live at. Families have sports tournaments, people have corporate jobs that demand travel and long hours, and “spare time” goes to recreation and self-care. Add in the fact that we run at two services on Sunday and it’s safe to say there are members who, for some time, hadn’t even met each other. In other contexts, the details may change, but the church’s challenge remains the same. It can be a daunting task to “slow things down.”

About 18-months ago our team strategized several ways to keep our growing church feeling small. The collective vision was pretty grass roots: No more herding people in and out of multiple services like cattle every Sunday! Assimilation and relational equity was the name of the game. People needed to know people. Shepherding souls and bringing people together, the ultimate focus.

I’m certain we’ve failed at times. There’s bound to be a miss here or there. But overall we’ve seen tremendous fruit and received feedback that tells us we’re achieving our goal. With some quantified success in the rearview, and plenty of time to learn new lessons, I thought it’d be a helpful to blog about some things that have worked.

Here are just 6 ways we made a growing church feel small:

  1. We host open-invite lunches with leaders

Called, “Lunch with Leaders,” we invite every newcomer and long-timer to join us for lunch after 2ndservice on select Sundays. Pastors, elders, deacons, interns, and lay leaders attend with their families and the bonding with church members and visitors is something straight out of the New Testament.  The timing of these matters. They take place nearly every 6 weeks; strategically placed at intervals between our small group sign ups and membership breakfasts.

  1. Our pastors attend membership classes (now called “breakfasts”)

I know many pastors who take pride in delegation. I know I do. But is there a time and a place where delegation isn’t all that wise? As a rule of thumb, the pastor who leads our membership classes may vary, but all of our pastors attend the classes and get to know people. More than that, we started calling them breakfasts and sharing a meal together to start. Meeting people and getting to know their stories fosters meaningful membership no matter how large a church gets. A pastor-friend with a demanding schedule once told me, “I’ll be away some Sundays throughout the year, will miss a staff meeting or three, But I don’t miss membership classes unless it’s a 911.”

  1. Our pastors write hand-written notes

Talk about a lost art, the hand-written note is something we were taught early on by an older, wiser pastor. Our office prints customized stationary, and each pastor has access to a never-ending stack of cards and envelopes. Stamps are currency, and besides his Bible, stationary can be a pastor’s dearest friend.

  1. We make a big deal about small groups

In September, January, and April, we host “Sign Up Sundays” for two consecutive weeks. This is where all of our small group leaders host tables spread out across the church campus. They decorate to reflect demographic and personality and welcome every newcomer to the church a place to grow in the word with others. Rosters normally overload by the second week and we train more leaders for the next round of sign ups. Leaders with no more room in their groups become our top recruiters; helping others find groups with open space. 97% of our members are in small groups. New leaders are being developed throughout the year. It makes a big difference in keeping a growing church feeling small.

  1. Our pastors and elders are accessible

This one should be common but there are many churches where pastors jet to the “green room” after services and are nowhere to be found during the week. Some church growth experts insist this is healthy for preserving the senior pastor’s star power. At our church, we’re taking our chances on a more traditional (even biblical?) approach. We’ve made a commitment to be accessible. Our teaching pastor likes to tell people, “There’s no magic behind the curtain.” We are shepherds. If people want to get to a pastor, they always can. If they don’t get to a pastor, it’s because they chose not to.

  1. We try to keep things simple

Too many churches feel like a night at the Cheesecake Factory. There are 8 pages of menu options, cold marble tables, too much noise, and nobody knows your name. Sometimes, less is more. Most times where churches do too much, pastors who should be shepherding souls end up becoming nothing more than glorified event planners. God has called the church to the ministry of the word and soul care. If a church spends too much energy trying to be everything to everyone, this will lead to a loss of vision, a loss of stamina, and a decrease in effectiveness. Why is that counter-active to keeping a growing church feeling small? Because eventually, that church will become little more than a shallow social club.

This list can grow or adjust over time, or maybe you have strategies that work better in your own context. At any rate, every pastor must agree that a growing church should be intentional about caring for the people who call it “home.”

A Christmas Devotional: O Humble Night

Every year Christmas comes like a tidal wave. The malls explode with busy shoppers, streets line with glistening lights, and the success of our Christmas can seem to hinge on “how good we did” under the tree. The schedule fills with family, friends, productions, parties and more. Yet amid our Christmas high, its true meaning can help bring us to a more fitting–and humbling–low.

On the eve of Christ’s birth, all of humanity was in the poorest of forms. As wandering souls, we were trapped in great sin, hopeless, and in need of a great Savior. But there, in the tiny town of Bethlehem, the world changed forever. From hopeless in the wreckage of our own depravity, to hopeful because of His holiness. A perfect baby came into the world and in Him the world found redemption.

He broke the bondage of sin we could never break. He conquered the enemy we could never defeat. He gave us a gift we could never deserve. O, what a humbling reality!

Enjoy Christmas, give gifts, and by all means rejoice with those you love. But in the midst of it all, let the weight of Christ’s birth press this humbling reminder upon your heart:

No gift can compare to the what we’ve been given in Him.

Reading: Matthew 1:18-2:23; Luke 2:1-20

Preaching Sound Doctrine Matters

Some years ago we did things a little differently at our church than we do now. We had a band that was filled with hired guns and we paid them to play the lights out every Sunday. To illustrate: our guitarist would tour the world with a famous boy-band, then roll in on Sundays to put on a show for our church – true story.

As far as the sermons would go, they were a mixture of some Bible, exciting and emotionally driven stories, and an ending that was designed to move everyone into an emotional response to the message. We were the typically modern, attractional, evangelical church. And make no mistake about it, lots people were dawning our doors. But they were not coming for doctrine – they came for the personalities, the music and the emotion. It was working!

This is why it seemed like our teaching-pastor had lost his mind when he suddenly got up one Sunday having “fired” all the hired musicians and telling the congregation, “If someone is musically gifted and won’t play for free, this church will no longer be a good fit.” Going even further he started preaching verse-by-verse through books of the Bible to grow our church in doctrine, and songs changed from the latest Jesus Culture or Hillsong hits to songs rich in theological truths. Emotionally driven services were replaced by the clear preaching of God’s word. Suddenly there were calls for biblical action out of love and obedience for Christ!

Then, there was an exodus. We went from being a brand-new shiny object – a fast-growing church plant holding multiple services and cruising through the 300-attendance mark – to suddenly having empty seats everywhere. Eventually we grew past where we once were, but this time, it would not be merely numerical, it was spiritual.

Sound doctrine (paired with prayer and patience) did the heavy lifting.

We Need Sound Doctrine

From big name preachers suggesting we “unhitch” ourselves from the Old Testament, to sermon series on mere behavior modifications from self-help books, to entire services being absent of the Bible but full of entertainment, the church today is in dire need of a strong dose of good ole’ fashion sound doctrine.

In short, doctrine matters.

Nothing else will satisfy the deepest needs of the human heart. Nothing else will quench the spiritual thirst of believers who have been transformed by the Gospel, and nothing is more true to the mandate of Christ’s commission in Matthew 28:16-20. Jesus didn’t suggest that someof what He taught be passed along in whatever modernized way His disciples saw fit. Nor did He give the nod to whatever methods get people in the door. He said that “making disciples” included “teaching them to observe all (emphasis added)” that He commanded (Matt. 28:20).

When the Apostle Paul was providing ministry instructions to his young protégé in the faith – Timothy – he hammered home imperative after imperative concerning the importance of sound doctrine! From that model alone there is no question of what a good minister of the Gospel is to do. We must be nourished on – and nourishing others on –  words of faith and sound doctrine (1 Timothy 4:6).

What Exactly Constitutes “Sound Doctrine”?

Sound doctrine in the Christian faith is accurate Bible teaching. “Doctrine” can be defined as the central beliefs that are held by a group of people and “sound” implies that something is reliable. Therefore, when churches spend more time entertaining people and giving shallow sermons, they are not fulfilling what a church is supposed to do and be. We must be preaching and teaching the central beliefs of the Christian faith based on what the Bible teaches – regardless of how the world around us is changing. Like a reliable friend who will tell you what you need to hear vs. what you want to hear, a reliable church (and specifically the preachers) should be giving you the truth and nothing but the truth.

Why Preaching Sound Doctrine Matters

Much is at stake, but great things are in store if a church stops playing games and bolts the Bible to the pulpit and the pulpit to the floor boards. Sure, some people may not like it, but God’s word promises that the blessings will outweigh the backlash.

Let’s look at five reasons that preaching sound doctrine matters:

  1. It is Required of Faithful Pastor-Elders

Do you know a pastor-elder who doesn’t want to be faithful in their duty for Christ? Most of them do. Plainly, the pastor-elders who are called to be the servant-leaders of the church are failing their duty if sound doctrine is not the central focus of the teaching and preaching ministry. Churchstaffing.com does not determine a pastor’s job description, nor does any other agency. God has, and continues to expect His mouth-pieces to fulfill His purposes laid out in Scripture. Men of God must be faithful. The New Testament lays out the role of those who oversee the church in no uncertain terms (Acts 20:17-38; 1 Tim. 4:6, 11-13, 16; 2 Tim. 3:10, 14-17; 2 Tim. 4:1-5). God commands that His people be served spiritual food loaded with sound doctrine. A pastor-elder can be gifted in many ways, but he is only faithful if in all that he does he preaches sound doctrine.

  1. It Saves the Lost

Church growth from disgruntled “transfers” are a dime-a-dozen…especially in America where we treat our churches like restaurants and the customer is always right. But the real deal when it comes to preaching sound doctrine is genuine conversions that happen when the lost come to faith by hearing the word of God (Rom. 10:17). Of course, people transferring from a doctrinally dangerous church to one that preaches sound doctrine is wonderful, but it can be argued that few things are sweeter than seeing new believers come face to face with the awe-inspiring power of the living Word through faithful preaching! From old sinful ways to new creation in Christ, sound doctrine washes over the heart and mind of lost sheep, regenerates their soul, and preserves their faith (1 Tim. 4:16).

  1. It Empowers the Saved

Sound doctrine catapults the people of God into spiritual growth because they are building their lives on the bedrock foundation of God’s Word rightly taught and rightly applied. They are mobilized and equipped to live mature in their faith and protected from false teaching (Eph. 4:11-14). Sound doctrine empowers Christians to live high-impact lives because they are living out right relationships with God, fellow believers, and the world. A right relationship with God means a proper view of the Gospel and His attributes like holiness and omnipotence. A right relationship with fellow believers means serving one another (Gal. 5:13), loving one another (Rom. 13:8), forgiving one another (Eph. 4:32), exhorting one another (Heb. 3:13), and stirring one another up towards good works (Heb. 10:24)! A right relationship with people in the world means evangelizing them (Rom. 1:16), being a model in your Christian witness (Col. 4:5), and never compromising the truth (1 Cor. 16:13). It’s incredibly amazing what can happen when Christians are taught sound doctrine and live their lives for the glory of God.

  1. It Purifies the Church 

Preaching sound doctrine is important because it not only produces strong believers, it purifies the church of false ones. This may not seem like a very “nice” strategy, but consider for a moment what Jesus did to thin out the ranks of those who were superficially following Him merely for divine favors. Luke records Jesus delivering one of His toughest truths when the crowds were large (Luke 14:25-35). Jesus was dishing out free food, miracles, and wisdom, but the minute He pushed into deep doctrine and hard truths, it divided the real followers from the false ones. True converts love God’s Word, false converts will be repulsed by it. Eventually, as books of the Bible are unpacked and the glorious doctrines contained in Scripture are laid bare for all to see, a decision will inevitably be made by those who hear the truth. Their hearts will either turn towards it, or they’ll scoff at it and turn away. This is a vital part of a preacher’s duty in the ministry of the word. In doing so he is participating in Christ’s building of His church, which includes purging it of imposters.

  1. It Impacts the Future

Now before you imagine “preaching sound doctrine” as a sort-of boring academic forum in the church each week, remind yourself of what sound doctrine is one final time: reliable and accurate Biblical teaching. Preaching sound doctrine is may seem dull and simple, but it’s dynamic!  If the New Testament church was willing to bet their ministries on it, why shouldn’t we? The impact of this is exponential and powerful. When sound doctrine was taught in the early church, it exploded (Acts 2:40-41). If a generation of believers will preach sound doctrine and stand for the truth, they will be modeling faithfulness for those who will come next. In other words, they’ll be discipling the next generation of disciple-making disciples with the foundation they’ll need to glorify God. 

While many more important benefits can be added to this list, the fact remains, preaching sound doctrine matters – both now and in eternity.

Editor’s Note: This article was originally featured in Theology for Life Magazine (Volume 5, Issue 3, Fall 2018) as “The Importance of Preaching Sound Doctrine.” 

Domenick Nati, Lauren Daigle, & Homosexuality

Lauren Daigle recently made headlines for an interview with Domenick Nati. Right near the end of his clip with her, he said he wanted to ask about her stance, as a Christian, on homosexuality and whether it’s a sin. Her response:

“I can’t honestly answer on that, in the sense of I have too many people that I love and they are homosexuals. I can’t say one way or the other, I’m not God. When people ask questions like that, I just say, ‘Read the Bible and find out for yourself. And when you find out let me know because I’m learning too.'”

Domenick’s response to her was, “Wow, you’re a pro already!”

Domenick Nati’s Latest Statement

Christians far and wide reacted to the interview in a variety of ways. Mostly, expressing frustration that Lauren failed to speak the truth in love about homosexuality being a sin. I believe that she has become a very popular Christian singer because of the integrity and reliability of her music, so people were genuinely rooting for her to answer it a certain way.

Excellent articles and books have been written dealing head on with the issue of homosexuality and whether or not it’s sin. We can be certain that it is sin and I recommend you search those out. This piece has a specific purpose.

The producer for the Domenick Nati Show reached out to me asking if I would be willing to post some or all of his statement concerning the backlash that Lauren Daigle received over her recent interview. I thanked him for reaching out and promised to review the statement closely and, if I felt it to be helpful, I’d interact with it in a spirit of fairness to Domenick’s effort. After reviewing the statement, I believe it’s important to clarify some truths for professing Christians. Anyone claiming to be a follower of Christ has a responsibility to be faithful to His Word, the Bible. Therefore, if someone is asked a question about the Bible and they “don’t know,” that’s fine to admit, but that doesn’t change the truth about the Bible.

Here is the statement from Domenick Nati, and my responses underneath. His words are in bold, mine are in italics:

“The backlash Lauren Daigle received from our interview has been very disappointing to witness. I was shocked by the amount of attack and assumption there was on someone simply saying “I don’t know”. The truth is YOU don’t know. You don’t know if she was being honest, you don’t know if she was dodging the question, and you don’t know if she was lying… and neither do I.”

In general, this is fair. There is nothing wrong with a person saying, “I don’t know.” In fact, it’s advisable if you don’t know something. It’s better than lying. Truth is, we don’t know what Lauren’s motive was, whether or not she lied, or what the state of her heart is before the Lord. For the most part, if we just take Domenick’s words at face value, there isn’t much to disagree with here.

“I know that Moses thought it was a sin and I know Paul thought it was a sin, but Jesus didn’t speak on it. And Paul and Moses didn’t always get things right in their writings nor was it always recorded, copied, and translated correctly. John 16:8-9 says “When the Holy Spirit comes He will expose the world concerning sin, concerning righteousness, and concerning judging. Of sin that they are not believing in Me.” Jesus identifies sin as not believing in Himself. Not our sexual preference, or wrongdoings, but rather our unbelief. So it’s possible that someone doesn’t know what is considered a sin and what isn’t, and neither does anyone else. Not Moses, Paul, you, me or Lauren Daigle because they’re “not God”.”

Here is where I do take exception to his statement. To be blunt, he’s flat out wrong from a historically orthodox Christian point of view. In other words, Christians for thousands of years would disagree with him, proper teaching for thousands of years disagrees with him, and only those who abandon the inerrancy, authority, and sufficiency of Scripture could do with Scripture what Domenick did here. I am not saying he is evil or malicious, but I am saying that this response is from a position that we, as Bible-believing Christians, reject.

Jesus didn’t speak directly about a lot of things including racism, child-abuse, or vandalism, yet that doesn’t make those “not sin.” Also, to pit the words of Moses and Paul against what Jesus did or didn’t teach is foolish. Jesus quoted from 24 books in the Old Testament, including all of Moses’ writings. Think they don’t matter or aren’t reliable? God Himself quoted from them. As for Paul, Jesus appeared to him, converted him, then commissioned him to be an Apostle (Acts 9). Countless scholars agree that he wrote nearly 50% of the New Testament letters. Further more, N.T. writers were “carried along by the Holy Spirit” (2 Peter 1:21) and guided “into truth” by the Holy Spirit (John 16:13). Finally, to take one little verse and say that it defines all of sin is what we call proof-texting or eisegesis. It’s basically taking something way out of its context. In John 16:8-9 Jesus is explaining that the Holy Spirit is going to convict the world of sin, righteousness, and “judgment” (not judging, as Domenick wrote). This means that the Holy Spirit is going to tug on people’s hearts and make it clear that they are sinners who need to repent, trust in Christ’s righteousness, and that He is going to judge them if they don’t. This is not a nullification of what is or isn’t sin. This is not a “get out of jail free” card for homosexuals. This is clear teaching that if you don’t repent of what the Law says is sin, you can never be made righteous in Christ. The Law says homosexuality and many other things are sin. That’s why we need Christ. We cannot keep the Law and therefore, are damned in our sin without trusting Him in faith. Therefore, we need to admit what is sin and turn to Him.

To true Christians, Scripture is not flawed or false. We believe it’s the literal “God-breathed” word to us and for us. We believe that Moses, Paul, and Jesus do not disagree with each other. We believe that even though time has passed God’s word will not (Isaiah 40:8). We believe that God has preserved His Word. It teaches us about Him, how to be saved from our sin, and how to live for His glory.

Lastly, for everyone that is accusing me of “setting a trap” for Lauren. I want to clarify two things. Number one, I have had a relationship with Jesus for eighteen years, however The Domenick Nati Show is not a “Christian” show, it is a pop culture/entertainment show that happens to be hosted by a Christian. The tagline for the show is, and always has been, “Maximum Exposure, Minimum Censorship”. Every celebrity guest knows that I always ask tough, provocative, and sometimes invasive questions that produce shocking content and news headlines. That is the show and it was not a secret before Lauren was our guest. Lauren was the first Christian artist we’ve ever had on the show and she does not deserve the backlash that she received.”

I don’t know Domenick and I want to believe the best about him. Let’s say he didn’t try to trap her, it still looks like he did. Beyond that, he achieved his goal of asking a tough question and producing shocking content and news headlines. Since his show aims for that, perhaps he should stick to dialogue with celebrities or artists about their work and lifestyle, rather than their theology or ethics (or lacktherof). If talking theology and ethics is his goal, then it’s pointless to dialogue with people who can’t answer his questions the way more knowledgeable Christians would. For example, if you want to talk basketball, call LeBron. If you want to talk Christianity, call a theologian or a proven Christian with a working knowledge of the Bible. If art is your aim, stick to art. I can see why people have a hard time ignoring that the question seemed to be a pre-mediated trap designed to drive “clicks.”

As for why Christians are upset with her, it’s important to be fair to their point of view, Domenick. People are upset with Lauren because she didn’t uphold biblical truths yet she claims to be a Christian. She represents “us” on platforms around the world. If she fails to tell the truth, she fails to uphold our collective witness. People are upset with Lauren because they expected better from a well-known Christian artist. People are upset with Lauren because they are tired of “celebrity” Christians misrepresenting our orthodox beliefs.

Compromising Christianity

As frustrating as it is to see Lauren miss the chance to suffer public backlash for proclaiming the truth, my heart goes out to her, and to you, Domenick. I don’t know your story, but so many professing Christians in celebrity culture, like you and Lauren, need to be encouraged and reminded that capitulating to the world’s pressure is not respectable. They’re owning you when you bow to their agenda. You’re not the influencer, you’re the influenced. To be a Christian is to stand upon convictions that transcend fans, fame, and followers. Being a Christian is about allegiance to Jesus Christ and His unchanging Word (Hebrews 13:8).

When thrown into the deep waters of mainstream media a Christian must determine to swim. What Lauren did was drown, and you helped. I don’t know if Lauren Daigle was lying, but I do know that as a professing Christian you lied to her. She’s not “a pro already.” She’s compromised the convictions that the Bible teaches and you’ve comprised your claim to be a follower of Christ. I hope you’ll give serious thought to that and consider what it means to follow Jesus (Luke 14:25-35)

The Bible is clear. Take God at His whole Word or take nothing at all.

Recommended Reading:

What Does the Bible Really Teach About Homosexuality– Kevin DeYoung

5 Reasons I Hate the Prosperity Gospel

Hate is a strong word. Using it should always be done in prudent fashion. People today hate a lot of things, but we must ensure we’re hating the right things. Hate is simply defined as “intense or passionate dislike” and can be a helpful learning tool for others who may be wondering why you feel so strongly about __________ (insert issue here).

In several simple paragraphs, I want to share with you why I hate the prosperity gospel. Let the reader understand, I don’t necessarily hate the people preaching it or family members who propagate it, nor do I believe that malicious or violent behavior towards a prosperity preacher is becoming of Christians. Such a thing is detestable. Still, there is an anger that God considers to be righteous (Ephesians 4:26) and we have a duty as Christians to push away apathy and embrace action when it comes to anything that tears down our God and His truth. Hatred, albeit taboo to say so, is not always a bad thing. Anger towards that which is “anti-Christ” is acceptable in God’s sight but it should always be accompanied by humble prayer and biblical explanation lest we become the dragon we’re trying to slay.

With a level-headed understanding of the kind of “hatred” in focus, here are 5 reasons why I absolutely hate the prosperity gospel:

I. It’s not good news

I’ve heard friends say, “There’s really no such thing as the prosperity gospel because there is only one gospel.” I completely agree, though I still prefer to use the terminology because people understand it so easily. “Gospel” literally means good news, and the prosperity gospel is not that at all. While prosperity preachers sell what appears to be good fortune, it’s actually damning heresy that paves the road to hell. Too strong? Not when you compare the true gospel to the lunacy that prosperity preachers promise. I love seeing lost people saved by the Gospel so much that I hate anything that gets in the way of them hearing transformational truth (Galatians 1:6-12; Romans 1:16).

II. It blasphemes Scripture

If you love God’s word, the Bible, would you ever want to lie to people about what it really says? One of the most hateful and abusive things happening in the church-world today is when a person opens the Bible and uses it as a tool for deception. This is blasphemy. This is what prosperity preachers do. The Bible declares some incredible things about itself. 2 Timothy 3:16 specifically reminds us that Scripture is “God breathed.” How dare someone take what comes directly from the Holy One and use it for sordid gain?

III. It insults Christ

I hate the way the prosperity gospel insults my Lord. He’s worthy of honor, glory, and praise. One day, every knee will bow before Him and declare Him King (Romans 14:11). But for now, there are those who smear His heavenly name to build their earthly empire. They ascribe promises to men that Jesus never made. Jesus did not come to inaugurate a get-rich-quick scheme for humanity, He came to fulfill a redemptive plan. What an insult to make Jesus into a lottery ticket! Jesus didn’t die on the cross to provide a steady stream of Bentley’s, Big Diamonds, and Botox. He died on the cross to provide our atonement. We deserved wrath for sin but He took our place. We deserved an eternity in hell but He ensured heaven would be home for those who put their faith in Him.

IV. It exploits the poor

Slowly read 1 John 3:17-18 for a moment: “But if anyone has the world’s goods and sees his brother in need, yet closes his heart against him, how does God’s love abide in him? Little children, let us not love in word or talk but in deed and in truth.” Now, imagine a prosperity preacher flying into a poor country on a private jet, staying in luxurious hotels far away from the slums, and then packing a soccer stadium with 300,000 desperate people in order to exploit them for money and good TV marketing. Then, imagine the prosperity preacher airing their perfectly edited program on TBN (or other platform) and telling their American (and global) audience to give money to help the poor people they’re reaching who need the gospel. Lastly, imagine the money pouring in and the ministry CFO ensuring that millions of dollars goes to the “anointed” leader to fuel his lavish lifestyle. Wash, rinse, repeat. I’ve been there and done that. It’s fun on the inside but scary once you think about eternal ramifications. God loves the poor. Exploit them and you’re going to be dealing with Him one day.

V. It has become mainstream

Have you ever been tossed by a wave in the ocean? I remember the feeling of total helplessness several years ago during a morning surf in California. Forecasts predicted ten foot swells so a couple friends and I packed up our egos and went out to surf. Fast forward to me gasping for air and getting crushed by wave after wave as the sets rolled in with little relief. I had no business being in the water that day. Nothing is more disheartening than being crushed by the momentum of something you cannot control. Similarly, I hate the prosperity gospel because it has produced a massive wave of destruction across the globe. Worst of all, that wave of destruction has become mainstream. People want it (2 Timothy 4:3-4). From America, to Africa, to South America and beyond, the prosperity gospel is en vogue.

If you hate the prosperity gospel as much as I do, the most loving thing you can do is speak the truth to those who need to hear it the most.

__________________________

Documentary Resource: 

“American Gospel: Christ Alone” has released and quickly become one of the most impactful documentaries on the prosperity gospel to date. Brandon Kimber directed and produced this film to help people understand the difference between the gospel of the Bible and counterfeits being sold today. Numerous testimonies are already pouring in from people who held “watch parties” as a tool for outreach to friends and family being deceived. Watch it on Vimeo on Demand today. Here’s the trailer.

 

Coming in 2019: 

In order to combat some of the evil spreading through prosperity theology today, I chose to write a book that deals with it head on. It will include a thorough look at life behind the scenes, and plenty of biblical teaching to help people grow in truth. The book is titled, God, Greed, and the (Prosperity) Gospel and is being published by Zondervan. You can pre-order it on Christianbook.com (currently discounted at the time of this article) or Amazon right now. Other outlets will carry it in the coming months.

A Biblical View of Wealth

Money tests our hearts like little else on earth. Whether it be the test of poverty, or the test of prosperity, money brings out the best and worst in us. Far too often, and I am sure you’d agree, we don’t know as much about God’s view on money as we ought to, but are afraid to admit. Within church-circles, it’s even more daunting to face our deficiencies on money-management because we’re “supposed” to be people of the Book – with all of the answers rolling off the tip our tongue. Some people preach the prosperity gospel (false), promising God wants you rich. Some preach the poverty gospel (also false), promising God wants you poor. Reality is, everybody needs to continuously revisit biblical principles on money and be a balanced, lifelong student of financial stewardship. To help contrast some of the bad teaching out there, here are some starter-principles to build upon.

Principle #1: God owns everything

When we think of wealth, first, we have to understand that God owns everything! God doesn’t owe you and I anything, He isn’t shocked by the state of the world, and He never “lost the deed to the earth” when Adam sinned, as prosperity preachers and Word of Faith enthusiasts will preach. God doesn’t just hold the deed to all land; He is the Creator of all land.

God owns the cattle on a thousand hills (Psalm 50:10); He owns everything under heaven, for that matter (Job 41:11). The Psalmist declares, “The earth is the Lord’s, and everything in it, the world, and all who live in it” (Psalm 24:1). There is no arguing with the Bible on who owns everything. God does.

So if God is the owner of everything, what does that make us? When we understand this first principle, we quickly realize we are simply, managers. One day, we’ll give an account for how we managed what He’s entrusted to us (see Matthew 25:14–30).

Principle #2: Wealth isn’t guaranteed on earth

The Bible is equally as clear that while God owns everything, wealth isn’t guaranteed for everyone on earth. Jesus told His disciples that the poor would always be with them (John 12:8). We can gather from His words that people are naturally going to struggle financially in this broken world. No wonder Scripture is so adamant that the poor be cared for—they are some of society’s most vulnerable people. Assuming, of course, that they are not poor because they are lazy (the Bible has much to say on laziness, but we’ll have to cover that another time), God cares greatly for those who are in need. The book of Proverbs contains wisdom on serving the poor because wealth is not always going to be evenly spread around the world. Because of that we should:

  • Not oppress the poor, but rather, be kind to them (Proverbs 14:31)
  • Lend to the poor and trust the Lord with the results (Proverbs 19:17)
  • Be generous and share food with the poor (Proverbs 22:9)
  • Give to the poor and not ignore them (Proverbs 28:27)
  • Protect the rights of the poor (Proverbs 29:7)

Caring for the poor is necessary because wealth is not guaranteed for all. Beyond that, Scripture show us what God wants for all of us. Contentment, not riches, should be the goal of every believer. We must maintain balance in our understanding on wealth and poverty. With his intelligence, extensive religious training (Acts 26:5), and Roman citizenship (Acts 22:27), the apostle Paul was certainly deserving of great wealth, but clearly he wasn’t focused on whatever the prosperity preachers of today are selling. He has learned the value in contentment (Philippians 4:12).

God accomplishes his purposes in and through both the poor and the rich. In the end, contentment is the key to a happy heart (1 Timothy 6:8).

Principle #3: Wealth is a tool for gospel advancement

Even though wealth is not guaranteed on earth, God does give the opportunity to gain wealth. You may say, “Nobody gave me wealth—I earned it!” The children of Israel thought the same thing, but Moses reminded them that it was God who was blessing them based solely on His sovereign will (Deuteronomy 8:17–18). In short, if God has blessed you with wealth, you ought to humbly thank Him and realize that you have a great responsibility.

When it comes to being rich, the Bible is hardly silent on what rich people are supposed to do with their abundance of money. Yes, it’s biblical and prudent to leave an inheritance for your children (Proverbs 13:22), and it’s good to work hard and save for the future (Proverbs 6:6). But you know what the greatest purpose of wealth is? To advance the gospel and do God’s will! Paul told Timothy that rich people are to do this very thing. In a very straightforward passage he says,

Command those who are rich in this present world not to be arrogant nor to put their hope in wealth, which is so uncertain, but to put their hope in God, who richly provides us with everything for our enjoyment. Command them to do good, to be rich in good deeds, and to be generous and willing to share. In this way they will lay up treasure for themselves as a firm foundation for the coming age, so that they may take hold of the life that is truly life.(1 Timothy 6:17–19)

There you have it. Wealth is not a sin. You’re allowed to enjoy it. But don’t for a second fix your hope on it. It’s a tool for ministry, not materialism.

The best investment strategy on earth is putting stock in heaven! Jesus affirmed this investment strategy when He said to store up treasure in heaven where nothing can destroy it (Matthew 6:19–21).

Use your wealth to advance the gospel. You can’t take it with you. There will be no U-Haul behind the hearse.

Principle #4: Wealth is not a sign of elite spiritual status

Prosperity preachers will tell you that wealth is a sign of an elite spiritual awakening. As in, “You have finally realized your full identity as a child of God when you step into the wealth God has for you.…” Or some nonsense like that.

Again, check the Bible on this. It is estimated the Bible contains upwards of two thousand references to money. Approximately 50 percent of Jesus’s parables dealt with stewardship of money and “stuff,” and nearly three hundred verses in just the Gospels alone deal with money. Doesn’t this tell you that money and wealth are a very serious subject to God? Nor do all these verses contain exciting affirmations about being wealthy; rather, many of them contain warnings about being wealthy. In fact, wealth is often a distraction from what really matters, so it takes a lot of discipline and biblical teaching to keep your heart from being sucked in by money’s malicious pull. The wealthy are often in a tug-of-war between their affections for earthly things (Philippians 3:19) and the eternal life to come. Wealthy believers, by the power of the Holy Spirit, can overcome temptations and use wealth as a tool for good, but more than likely there will always be a battle in the heart between giving generously and the natural inclination to keep, keep, keep.

Does the Bible paint wealth as a mark of the spiritual elite, or does it warn of the dangers of having all the things your heart desires? Look at what the Bible warns about wealth and decide for yourself:

  • You can’t serve two masters (Matthew 6:24).
  • The deceitfulness of riches chokes out fruitfulness (Mark 4:19).
  • It’s difficult for rich people to choose Christ over wealth (Luke 18:22–23).
  • It’s difficult for rich people to enter the kingdom of God (Luke 18:25).
  • The love of money is the root of all evil (1 Timothy 6:10).
  • Your soul is your most important asset (Luke 12:20).
  • You can gain the whole world yet lose your soul if you do not have Christ (Mark 8:36).

Furthermore, in the Bible, the poor and afflicted are given special attention when it comes to spiritual care, and they are often able to worship more freely because they are free of the entanglements that riches bring. Revelation 2:9 illustrates this perfectly and tells us what real riches are. Jesus calls the church of Smyrna “rich” because even though they are in poverty and tribulation, they have held fast to their faith no matter the cost! They receive the highly esteemed crown of life for their faithfulness and suffering on earth (Revelation 2:10). What a powerful truth! Wealth is not a sign of elite spiritual status—having Christ is.

Don’t buy the lies the prosperity preachers sell. The wealthy should be asking, “How can I be more sacrificial?” Rather than, “How can I boast in my elite status?” 

Principle #5: Wealth is an immense responsibility

If you’re wealthy, you were meant to build God’s kingdom, not your own earthly empire. Jesus said not to be anxious about any kind of provision but to instead seek His kingdom and his righteousness and that everything else would be taken care of (Matthew 6:31–33). In fact, we are all called to live generous lives with whatever means we have. Jesus said that when a widow gave two cents, she had given more than the wealthy who had given large amounts (Luke 21:1–4). He doesn’t see the size of your gift; He sees the state of your heart. When we give, we must give willingly, not under compulsion (2 Corinthians 8:12; 9:7). Wealth is a responsibility to steward, trusting that God has blessed you to be a blessing and that He will keep blessing you as He sees fit. Our job isn’t to keep; our job is to work hard, invest well, and give generously (again, see Matthew 25:14–30).

Prosperity gospel preachers want you to give to them to make them rich, but God wants you to give to faithful gospel ministries to help them reach. There is a world of hurting and broken people, and money can make a huge impact in ways that will long outlive you. You will be accountable for how you managed the wealth God has given you. That is an immense responsibility. What will your conversation be like before the throne of Christ? Will you stammer and stutter, claiming to have tried to give a little here and there while you spent most of it on your own pleasures and let the poor suffer and the church struggle? Or will you joyfully report to the Master, saying, “Lord, sometimes it went against the grain of this world to give sacrificially for your work, but pleasing you was the priceless treasure I held on to!” If we live that way, I have no doubt we will hear, “Well done, good and faithful servant! You have been faithful with a few things; I will put you in charge of many things. Come and share your Master’s happiness!” (Matthew 25:23).

So go ahead! Work hard, enjoy life, and celebrate the gifts that God has given you. Be content, seek His kingdom first, care for others, and give generously in whatever ways He has enabled you to do. In all your working, living, striving, giving, and caring, remember to maintain biblical balance and keep eternity in mind.

God is not trying to take away all you have—He’s the one who gave it. He is, more than anything, testing the affections of your heart and offering you a joy beyond this world with Him in glory.

Wealth is not a sin; it’s a responsibility. Use it well.

God’s Design for Fathers and Work

I recently posted a Twitter poll. The question was: Is it biblical for a man who is able-bodied and married with children to be a stay-at-home dad while his wife goes to work as primary provider? After over 1,100 people weighed in, the results and responses were varied. Including many comments from Facebook, it became obvious that there are still numerous people who don’t think the Bible speaks on this issue. I hope this article will help provide some food for thought.

How should a Christian father approach work, leadership, and providing for his family? Some would argue that the culture has changed since the “old days” and the modern man should be happy with whatever method or arrangement he and his wife agree too. That may mean him staying home with a baby strapped to his chest and a casserole in the oven while his wife climbs the corporate ladder. It also may mean the income-driven approach. In many of today’s households, money drives the agenda and the “have to’s” abound. We “have to” have this, “have to” have that. Even if both spouses didn’t have to work, many couples choose to both work in order to maximize income. As for the kids? Well, some would argue that’s what daycare is for.

Is this God’s design? Did He call fathers to a passive existence when it comes to work and provision; viewing “homemaker” as a role fit for men? Is His will that mother and father work for retirement, home ownership, and more comfort while their young children are farmed out to others during their formative years? Does God want the burden of being primary provider placed on the wife’s shoulders? Are we to chase a cushion in our bank account at any cost – even if that means our kid’s well being? The picture we see in Scripture is a resounding “no.” You may be thinking, what about special circumstances and seasons where it’s not as black and white? What about married couples who don’t have kids – can’t they both work? What about people who work from home so they’re able to be with the kids? What about women who work night shifts and Saturdays while their husband plays with the kids in order to not abandon their role in the home? Isn’t it fine that a mother go back to work when her children are old enough to go to school? The nuances are endless, and like the ones above, some are valid, but each couple will have to decide whether or not to follow God’s design – even if that means tough decisions. God’s will for fathers and mothers is that they be serving in their primary roles – especially when young children are in the home. I’ll repeat that one more time so we’re clear: especially when young children are in the home. Let the reader understand, this is no broad brush of every life stage and scenario. A topic like this takes a great a deal of level-headed, biblical thinking. We must consider all that Scripture teaches.

In today’s world, many Christian men need to step up as fathers and stop bowing to culture and cowering in fear of feminists. Yes, life is hard and some decisions might make you public enemy #1, but Christian men are called to lead by example whether it’s easy to or not. To spur you on as you discern God’s word in relation to work and roles, here are 3 truths to remember about a godly father and his work:

  1. Godly fathers are called to work

In Genesis God established the working order for husband and wife.  The Bible is not unclear about God’s design. First, God modeled work in creation (Genesis 2:1-3). As an image-bearer of God, men must remember that work is part of their pre-fall design. Work isn’t bad or to be avoided by men. Work is to be embraced, and by work, I mean employment and labor because God means employment and labor. God gave man his first job (Genesis 2:15). God didn’t employ a woman to manage the Garden of Eden, He employed man. That should be noted.

After the Fall, the nature of work changed, but man’s call to work didn’t. God cursed the ground (Genesis 3:17a), told Adam that toil was now to be expected and that hard work was required to provide food (Genesis 3:17b-19). The work environment would be hostile and unforgiving as it produced thorns and thistles in addition to good crops (Genesis 3:18). As the nature of work changed, God laid out clear roles for men and women. He was not silent on the specific areas that husbands and wives would be impacted. For women, it would be childbirth and the desire to dominate their husband (3:16). For men, it would be difficulty in laboring to provide.

Furthermore, Jesus was a divine example of work. He was sent to accomplish spiritual work (John 9:4-5) which, of course, caused Him to constantly exert Himself physically. Beyond that, what did Jesus do until His ministry began at 30? Historically speaking, as the son of a carpenter He would have been apprenticed in carpentry and no stranger to hard work. Your Savior had the calloused hands of a carpenter long before having the nail scared hands of a Redeemer. Christ was a worker in every sense. We should be too.

  1. Godly fathers are to provide

Being a provider is a vital part of biblical manhood.

On the order of a Christian home the Bible explains that while husbands and wives are spiritual equals (1 Peter 3:7), they are to function in distinct roles. Wives are to submit to their husbands as the head of the home (Ephesians 5:23-27). Just as Christ is the head of every man, the man is the head of the wife (1 Corinthians 11:3). Therefore, a simple question can be asked when it comes to men providing for their wives: Did Christ provide for the Church or did Christ command the Church to provide for Him? From our salvation, to our future glorification, we are provided for by Christ! So also, a man must care for his wife and children by providing for them. 

In the Paul’s writings, we see strong words regarding men providing for their homes: if anyone does not provide for his own, and especially for those of his household, he has denied the faith, and is worse than an unbeliever(1 Timothy 5:8). Some will try to dismiss gender roles here and argue that the context is limited to the care of widows (which Paul certainly has in mind), but Paul broadens his language to include a man’s household and immediate circle. To “deny the faith” and be “worse than an unbeliever” means your actions are contrary to what you say you believe and that there are even unbelievers who do a better job prioritizing provision than you! This can be tough for a man to face, but a man was, and is, biblically expected to provide.

A word to those feeling shame or tension over this topic: There is no need to feel shame for missing the mark in this area if you’ve never been taught biblically on it. Study further (resources below), pray through the next step with your wife, and walk confidently forward knowing God always honors His word. It may be a difficult season shifting to a more biblical approach, but trusting and obeying God will lead to joy and peace.

  1. Godly fathers don’t capitulate to culture

It doesn’t matter what culture may demand, a godly man will stand. The Word of God is the godly man’s decree. Christ, not culture, is the head he submits to. Whatever the nuances that come up in relation to his wife, his children, and work, his leadership stays under the Lordship of the Master. He knows his role requires the provision and protection of his family. He studies and helps his family understand their roles as well, leading his wife to be one who loves her husband, loves her children, and diligent keeps home (Titus 2:4-5). This will, of course, include accurately handling the Scriptures so not to dismiss or misinterpret passages he must apply. For example, the question will often arise: Why can’t a mother work full time like the woman in Proverbs 31? He must know that there is nothing wrong with a wife who emulates the industrious woman of Proverbs 31 in order to create income for her home. Yet still, a Christian home should be structured in such a way that the mother is not abandoning her primary responsibilities in order to climb the corporate ladder. It is against God’s design for a household to rally around a mother who is pursuing a career outside of the home when young children are present. Especially when God has called her to fulfill one of the greatest roles in the history of the universe for a short number of years. While many will cry, “cruel patriarchy!” and view God’s design as oppressive, their perspective is short-sighted. A woman gets to birth and nurture God-glorifying children (1 Timothy 2:15) while her husband gets to care for her and provide for her needs. She gets to influence the next generation. She gets to shape the minds of her little ones in a world gone mad. This is God’s design and godly men must work to allow their wives the opportunity to fulfill this high calling.

Christian men do well to read a book edited by Piper and Grudem called, Recovering Biblical Manhood and Womanhood. On wives and work, George W. Knight III writes:

Since Scripture interprets Scripture and its teaching is consistent and unified, we realize that the picture of Proverbs [Chapter 31] is not contradicted by the Apostle Paul. Furthermore, we must realize that the emphasis on the home is the very point of the Proverbs passage. The woman in Proverbs works to care for her family and to fulfill her responsibility to her family (cf., e.g., verses 21 and 27). She does this not only for her children but also to support her husband’s leadership role in the community (verse 23). She is seeking the good of her family. Furthermore, she seeks to aid the poor and needy by her labors (verse 20). Here, then, are keys to the question of a wife and mother working outside the home: Is it really beneficial to her family, does it aid her husband in his calling, and does it, in correlation to the first two, bring good to others? Can she do it while still being faithful to her primary calling to be a wife and mother and to care for her home? It must be noted that even though the woman in Proverbs has not sought to “find herself” or to make her own career, but rather serve her family, in the end she receives praise from her family (verses 28, 29) and recognition for her labors (verse 31) because she has conducted the whole endeavor in obedience to the Lord she reverences (verse 30).

Much more can be said on this topic that space and time do not allow here. Whatever your view at this point in time, remember this:

Every Christian father will give an account to Christ one day for how he led, served, and nurtured his wife. Will she be battered and worn down from this world because you sent her to fight in a battle that was yours? Will your children have experienced the beauty of God’s design before their very eyes or will you have squandered the chance to help them relish in the joy and blessing of obedience? Will your hands be calloused from labor like Christ?

Men of God keep their work boots by the front door and their Bible close by.

__________________________________

Recommended Resources: 

Recovering Biblical Manhood and Womanhood edited By John Piper and Wayne Grudem

The Grand Design by Gavin Peacock and Owen Strachan

The Fulfilled Family by John MacArthur

Being a Dad Who Leads by John MacArthur

The Exemplary Husband by Stuart Scott

Why Biblical Elders Are Vital to Church Health

Church leadership models always seem to be going through a type of cultural renovation. Trying to stay relevant, influential evangelicals try to innovate at every turn; trading in biblical roles like elder and deacon for newer, less biblically stringent leadership positions. Some churches avoid having elders altogether because of bad experiences or horror stories from others who warn, “Don’t have elders, they will control you!”  Other churches have senior pastors with their own agenda in mind who purposely manipulate the system to ensure that only “yes-men”make it into leadership. Still, there are churches who have yet to raise up elders or don’t know how. Whatever the scenario, biblical eldership is not always taken as seriously as it should be, and yet, it is incredibly vital to the health of a church.

Elders are important to the church because, first and foremost, they are the leaders that Christ has appointed to oversee His church. This is not mere suggestion – it is the biblical mandate. A church cannot be a fully healthy church without elders, and a church can most certainly not be a healthy church without qualified elders (1 Timothy 3:1-7; Titus 1:5-9).  At the very least, there should be elders being raised up where there are no qualified elders yet. Elders are so important that one of Paul’s first apostolic decisions in the churches that he established was to appoint elders there (Acts 14:23; Titus 1:5).

Besides their biblically mandated presence in a church, there are several specific ways that elders are important to the vitality and health of a church.Here are are six to consider:

1. The church needs elders who are spiritually minded

Far too many elder boards are nothing more than a polity board when instead they should be pastoral. The church doesn’t need corporate shot-callers, it needs shepherds. True elders are ultimately put in their position by the Holy Spirit (Acts 20:28), not by being golfing buddies with the senior pastor or a wealthy influencer in the church. The term elder, in the Bible, is reserved for spiritual men who shepherd the flock. The terms πρεσβύτερος (presbuteros), ποιμήν (poimen), and ἐπίσκοπος (episkopos) are all used to describe the same office in the New Testament. Overseers, pastors, shepherds, and elders are all operating as the same kind of servant leader(s) of the church. Therefore, elders are spiritual men who are spiritually minded. They aren’t concerned with holding a position of power, but rather, being a faithful steward of what Christ has entrusted them with.

2. The church needs elders who care for the people

Christ’s people needs care – period. From counseling, to comforting, to correcting, to concern, no body of believers should be without overseers who have a genuine care for their souls (Hebrews 13:17). One of the ways that care is continuous is in the prayer life of an elder. Elders take time to pray fervently for the people. While the people are working, battling sin, and facing another day of challenges, there ought to be elders who are spiritual men going to the throne room of God on behalf of the people. This by no means is to say that the church must have some sort of priestly mediator – for we have Christ and need no other. It is to simply say that shepherds should be praying for the flock; knowing that God uses the power of prayer to preserve people.

3. The church needs elders who model for the people

They don’t need to be perfect or on a pedestal, but elders should be joyfully modeling a commitment to Christ and holiness in their lives. 1 Timothy 3:1-7 lays out qualifications that all Christians should strive for, but specifically, it lays out qualifications that all elders must possess. In fact, one of the responsibilities of an elder is to set an example for the flock (1 Peter 5:3). Elders who are qualified prove to be helpful models for people who need encouragement, discipleship, and a real life example of how sanctification works! Paul said, “Imitate me as I imitate Christ” (1 Corinthians 11:1). That’s the kind of leadership the church needs from elders.

4. The church needs elders who support church discipline

Elders oversee church discipline and support a system of correction, purification, and restoration within the church.  This is a healthy ecosystem in that the elders are often appointed by those within the church based on their qualifications, then serve to support the church through discipline and oversight. What a model of humility by both the congregation and the elders! (Matthew 18:15-20; Galatians 6:1; 2 Thessalonians 3:13-15; Titus 3:9-11).

5. The church needs elders who teach the Word

While all believers are to be teaching and admonishing one another (Colossians 3:16), elders are specifically called to the ministry of the word (1 Timothy 3:2) and charged with the task of preserving sound doctrine within the church (Acts 20:31; Titus 1:9). No church should ever have to suffer through the burden of not having gifted leaders who guide them in the Scriptures. Elders should be seen as essential to feeding the flock so much so that one of the primary emphasis in a local church is the raising up, and support of, biblical elders.

6. The church needs elders who protect them from deceivers

Elders are essential to a church because their ministry includes an emphasis on protecting the people by using the word to refute those who would harm them. Again, this is something that all Christians can do, but Christ has seen to it that there’s no question of who must do this. Even though people appoint and humbly follow their qualified leaders, it is ultimately the Holy Spirit who “makes” elders the overseers of the church (Acts 20:28) and demands they must protect the people. Elders stand against false doctrines, mark false teachers, and refuse to concede against any wolves that would prey on the flock (Acts 20:28-30; Romans 16:17-18).

Governance models within any given church may vary. Some will opt for elder led, some for congregationalism, and others will mix these two and find a type of balance. No matter the model, biblical elders are critical to the health of a church. Our goal should be to see Christ raise them up in our churches for the good of His people and glory of His name.

Recommended Reading:

Biblical Eldership By Alexander Strauch

The Masters Plan for the Church John MacArthur

Church Elders By Jeramie Rinne

Biblical Foundations for Baptist Churches: A Contemporary Ecclesiology By John S. Hammett

Should Your Church Sing Jesus Culture & Bethel Music?

One of the top questions I receive is about Jesus Culture and Bethel Music. Inquiring minds ask, “What do you think about listening to the music, or using only the songs that are sound?”

It’s a fair question that deserves an answer. Still, each person must determine how they’ll proceed. To spark your consideration, the 5 reasons below approach the topic from a few unique angles.

Let’s start with the obviously theological reasons, then let’s move to some practical implications that can directly or indirectly effect your church and ministry.

  1. Their movement & leaders preach a heretical version of Christ

When I use the “H” word here, I’m not being extreme. Scriptural teaching, early church teachings, early church councils, and your Bible college textbooks would all confirm, the “Jesus” that Bill Johnson, Bethel Church, Bethel Music, and Jesus Culture propagate is not the real Jesus. Blending Kenotic Theory (that Jesus emptied Himself of Deity), and shades of Arianism and mysticism, Bill Johnson’s teaching is beginning to be widely rejected after years of remaining mainstream and acceptable. So what took so long? Perhaps it was the tolerance narrative that evangelicalism tends to lean towards, or, people have to see enough friends and family led astray before it hits home. Whatever the reason, it’s praise-worthy to see church leaders standing up for the true gospel.  There is no debate here. The “Jesus” of Jesus Culture and the rest of the Mystical-Miracle movement is not the Jesus of the Bible. If you’re not familiar with Bill Johnson, Bethel Music, or Jesus Culture, here are 5 options to read through (both short and long). I’ve listed our book last since it’s the longest.

At What Price Awakening? Examining the Theology and Practice of the Bethel Movement  By Stephen Tan

Book Review: When Heaven Invades Earth, by Bill Johnson By David Schrock

Responding to the False Teaching of Bethel Church, Jesus Culture, and Todd White By Gabriel Hughes

Why I Don’t Sing the Songs of Hillsong and Jesus Culture By Jonathan Aigner

Defining Deception: Freeing the Church from the Mystical-Miracle Movement By Costi W. Hinn & Anthony G. Wood

  1. They need to be rescued with truth; not mitigated in their errors

A typical response to this article might be: “Even if the movement is heretical, the music is still really good. I’ll just not sing the ‘bad songs.’” Or, “We’re just singing catchy songs, it’s not like Bill Johnson is preaching our Sunday services.” 

Let’s be honest for a second, even it stings a bit. You’re avoiding the real issue if this is your attitude. If their version of Jesus is the “kenotic theory Jesus,” then there could be a lot of people believing in, singing to, leading others to, and following a false Jesus. In other words, like Mormons or other false religions who appear to be “Christian,” a lot of people in this movement aren’t being given the truth and they need the real gospel. There are many following these false teachers (like many of us were before being rescued) who are in serious danger. That means we need to view them as a mission field instead of making excuses for our using the music. We need to engage them with the truth and reason with them from Scripture. The power we need is the power of the true gospel. When we start making concessions on the music, or using apathy to avoid facing hard truths, we’re cowering from the Great Commission. Be different. Don’t sing the music. Don’t muddy the waters. Reach these people.

  1. They get paid royalties to keep funding their heretical cause

Perhaps the most practical reason not to sing their music at your church is that by doing so you’re (or your church is) paying them royalties. These royalties fund their schools and programs like Bethel Supernatural School of Ministry and WorshipU, that allow them to keep reproducing more false prophets, more music, and more musicians; spreading their teaching around the world. Through CCLI, direct downloads, or other purchase methods, even when you use the “good songs” and leave out the “bad songs,” you’re putting money in the same pockets. In the previous generation, there was little discussion about using the music produced by false teachers like of Juanita Bynum, T.D. Jakes, and Benny Hinn. First Baptist down the street was not going to feature a special recording during the offertory by Hinn’s crusade choir just because it sounded good. The unanimity around them being prosperity preachers and a danger to the gospel was, and is, without question. Therefore, no discerning Christian wanted to support their ministries financially by using their material. We need to take the same approach today. However, this is a new generation and the lines must be drawn again. I don’t know too many believers who want to knowingly support false teachers. Avoiding their music is a sound decision.

  1. You could be limiting the creativity and talent of your church’s own band

How many songs would be written if we stopped using Jesus and Bethel Music and had to come up with our biblically reliable music? How much would it challenge us to new heights of excellence if we had to make great sounding music that was not on the downgraded slope of apostasy? What next-generation world changers would rise up to be used of God in the music industry if we fostered their value in our congregations by asking them to write homegrown songs? If we knew that our music originated in the right place, our questions on this issue begin to fade. Many churches are sitting on amazing talent and gifts but do not use what God has provided. Take advantage of the autonomy that Christ allows each individual assembly to have and take ownership of creating your own songs and music.

  1. People need clarity on this issue more than ever before

People will naturally call it legalism when we’re taking about whether or not to sing Jesus Culture or Bethel music. But the church may do well to “steal” an idea from our Baptist friends. Just like a most Baptists avoids drinking altogether for the purpose of avoiding even the appearance of evil, a church may consider avoiding singing songs by heretical groups under the same guiding principle. Wisdom and prudence may be in order on this subject because it has become such a stumbling block for people today – just like alcohol. Is it sin to sing a Bethel song with sound lyrics? Is it a sin to take a sip of wine? No. But it just doesn’t make a whole lot of sense to risk confusing people in an effort to not come across legalistic. There are better hills to take, and more pressing issues to focus on. This one gets put to rest if we just draw a hard line and move on. If anything, the question of music is an easy one to deal with if you keep things biblically balanced. Why even associate with anything that is unbiblical or in question? Some New Testament guidelines that can help with this hot-button issue are:

  • Avoid being a stumbling block to others (Rom. 14:13-23)
  • Avoid even the appearance of evil (1 Thess. 5:22)
  • Dangerous people should be silenced, not supported (Titus 3:11)
  • False teachers should be marked, not mitigated (Rom. 16:17-18)
  • Leaders are responsible to guard their doctrine and lives closely (1 Timothy 4:16)

While you may not agree with all the points listed here, at the very least, I hope I’ve provided you with some food for thought as you determine your own trajectory both at your church (whether in leadership or not), and in your home.

5 Signs of a Dangerous Church Member

In his phenomenal book titled, Well-Intentioned Dragons, Marshall Shelley addressed the challenges of problem-people in the church saying,

“Wherever there’s light, there’s bugs.”

And boy, is he right.

It seems that, without question, problem people tend to pop up most where the light burns brightest. Not in every case, but quite often, they end up draining the pastor(s) of energy that should be going towards genuine needs – not nagging tares.

Hide of a Rhino; Heart of a Child

Now before you take this post to be the “default” position on problem-causing church members, understand that no pastor should ever be callously eager for church members to head out the door. Still, he must protect the flock from divisive members who prove to be more inclined to subterfuge than support. A pastor must be tough and tender. He needs the hide of a rhino, and the heart of a child.

The Bible provides hard evidence for church discipline with the goal of restoration (Matt. 18:15-20) and pastoral patience with the goal of saving people from errors (2 Timothy 2:24-26). Conversely, the Bible gives instruction for how to deal with wickedness and factious persons doing harm to the church (Romans 16:17-8; 2 Cor. 5:1-10; Titus 3:10-11). The subject of dealing with dangerous church members is certainly a “both/and” in that we ought to be patient, while still protecting the precious bride of Christ.

When Enough is Enough

I’ve known pastors who have literally spent countless hours trying to appease and please church members who seem to be more interest in shooting the dust and making them dance than receiving actual ministry from the shepherd. Once they’ve wreaked enough havoc or been shown the door, the church member leaves for another church and repeat the process. As much as pastors have a day of reckoning with the Master coming (rightfully so), so will church members who fail to humbly fulfill their duty in the body. Equal to the the high standard of excellence we place on our pastors (and we should), a high standard of excellence must apply to church members. Church hopping trouble-makers beware, a resume of harassing the bride will not go over well with the Bridegroom.

Sure, there will be plenty of seasons when difficult church members need thick-skinned pastors who will offer counsel, exhibit gentleness and patience, and be longsuffering. That is the job.

But are there times when a pastor needs to brush the dust off his feet and let church members huff and puff out the door? Absolutely.

As a compliment to a recent article on FTG entitled, 5 Signs of a Dangerous Pastor, here are 5 signs of a dangerous church member.

  1. The Money Manipulator

This church member uses money in two ways. One, they give lots of it and use that to manipulate their agenda. Two, they have money but give none of it because they don’t get their way. This kind of church member completely ignores imperatives for generous giving without strings attached (1 Timothy 6:17-18). Sometimes, they know a lot about church because they grew up in it, served on a deacon board, or perhaps even hold a seminary degree. Unfortunately, all of their experience and knowledge doesn’t translate into supporting or submitting to the church.

  1. The Sideline Spectator

When it comes to church members serving, some people have just never been taught what it means to biblically employ their gifts to serve one another (1 Peter 4:7-11). If they were told that the Bible commands serving, they’d joyfully obey. These are well-intentioned spectators waiting to be challenged and put in the game! But the dangerous type of spectator is the one who knows what to do but has an attitude problem about doing it. Their own pride keeps them from serving others and exemplifying the kind of love that Christ expects of His people. When VBS needs volunteers, the food pantry needs a cook, the campus team needs ushers, or the children’s ministry needs a teacher, they shrug it off with sentiments like, “Let the paid guys worry about that. That’s why we put food on their table.”

  1. The Extortionist

I witnessed this one first hand when I was a newly appointed associate pastor. A church member approached me and said, “If the pastor doesn’t stop preaching that way, we’re outta here.” Said church member didn’t like the hard truths coming from the pulpit or the teaching pastor’s refusal to tone down his doctrinal preaching. Fortunately, in this case, the member left and our church filled with people starving for truth. But not all of these shakedown standoffs end in joyful victory for faithful pastors. Many good pastors suffer greatly at the hands of dangerous church members. Horror stories abound of elder boards and influential families putting a pastor in the position of, “do what we say or end up homeless.” This heart-breaking reality is actually one of the reasons why denominations and church associations are so beneficial. They can usually help find the pastor a new church to serve.

  1. The Bitter Busy Body

This type usually steers clear of the pastors as long as they can; seeking to lurk in the shadows. They spend a lot of time making their rounds, gossiping and creating factions, questioning the leadership of the church, and adding, “promise you won’t tell?” to their secrets. They are a time thief who distracts the church from staying on mission. You’ll often notice a repeated pattern of strife, gossip, bitterness, and discord at multiple churches from these individuals. Usually they don’t deal with their heart issues at one church so they continually leave churches because of their own pride; ignoring the very thing church members are supposed to: work out their sin and be restored! Have you ever wondered why there are so many “one another” statements in the New Testament? We are to love one another, serve one another, forgive one another, and bear with one another because we are human and we’re going to hurt one another. Dangerous church members refuse to face their sin, confess their need to help, and resolve conflict. God help their next church.

  1. The Blame Gamer

This is a toned down quote from a real story: “Pastor Larry didn’t meet with me because it was his day off. I really needed him. Now my marriage failed and I lost my job. If he was there for us when we needed him this wouldn’t have happened.” How many times does this occur in our own lives? We are the issue, but we need someone to blame to cope with our guilt. Dangerous church members are those who refuse to love their wives, won’t put down the porn, cuss at the boss, and roll their eyes at the pastor’s sermon series on marriage only to blame the pastor for what they caused. What’s at the center of this blame game? Self-centered sin and a focus on self. If a pastor refuses to cancel his date night or a family day to meet with a member, good for him. Unless it’s life or death, chances are it can wait 24 hours or someone else in the church can handle the situation and offer prayerful encouragement in the interim. Disobedient church members demanding the pastor save them from their sins have it twisted. They don’t need a pastor. They need Christ.

Be encouraged, faithful shepherd. There are some people that you can let go. Focus on loyal labor for the Master and serve those whom God has entrusted to your care. He will reward you (Rev. 22:12).

Recommended Reading: Well-Intentioned Dragons: Ministering to Problem People in Your Church by Marshall Shelley