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

What Will You Do With Jesus?

In the synoptic Gospels, around the time leading up to Jesus’ crucifixion, we find some of the most heart-wrenching literature in all of Scripture. From this brief period of time, a simple question of personal reflection can be drawn out. It’s a question of conviction: what will we do with Jesus?

Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John all record important aspects of Jesus’ betrayal, denial, trial, and sentencing to death. What was done with Jesus began a short distance from the city of Jerusalem, across the Kidron Valley, up the Mount of Olives, and into the shadows of the Garden of Gethsemane. There, underneath the overhang of olive trees the Lord Jesus’ sweat turned to blood as He accepted the will of God unto death on a cross. It’s there, in those shadows, that you may begin to see things in a way you never have. Men and women from the time of Christ until today have had their opportunity to come face-to-face with the reality of who Jesus is.

What will you do with Him?

Judas Betrayed Him

It was an act that we all scoff at with self-righteousness. Surely none of us would stoop to such a low as Judas. That dark night, leading a cohort of weapon-wielding officers, chief priests, and Pharisees (John 18:3), Judas betrayed the God-man who just a short time before had washed his very feet. He sold out the Son of God for thirty pieces of silver. The chief priests got their hands on Jesus. Judas got his blood money. Complimenting John’s gospel, Matthew records Judas’ guilt-ridden effort to redeem himself; throwing the money back at the priests in remorse (Matt. 27:1-5). He never repented; hanging himself in shame.

Peter Denied Him

Against all odds, Jesus told Peter exactly what would happen and it did (John 13:31-38). Without hesitation, and on repeat (3-times), Peter flat out denied the Lord he’d so verbosely defended. The disciple who often was the quickest to speak and the first to jump out of the boat, suddenly stood by firelight in the deafening silence of his own denial of Jesus. Then, the cock crowed (John 18:27) and Peter began to weep (Mark (14:72).

Pilate’s Wife Said, “Avoid Him”

Historical writings name Pontius Pilate’s wife Procla (or Procula).Some view her as a saint while others don’t go so far. Whatever the varying views, Scripture gives only one small piece of evidence as to why she was so hesitant about her husband condemning Christ to death. In Matthew 27:19 she comes to her husband’s side telling him, “Have nothing to do with that righteous Man; for last night I suffered greatly in a dream because of Him.” In a last-ditch effort, Procla interrupts her husband while he was mid-trial – something that would have been extremely unacceptable – to offer a final warning. Perhaps she had to come to believe that this Jesus of Nazareth was the Messiah. Or, she was uneasy about Him after her dream. Whatever the case, she thought it was best for her husband to have nothing to do with Him.

Herod Mocked Him

Receiving a hand-off from Pilate, Herod finally got what he wanted. It was a chance to put this Jesus character to the test and see signs and wonders put on display. However, Jesus refused to answer anything that was asked of Him by Herod (Luke 23:9), while throughout the process of questioning the priests and scribes were “accusing Him vehemently” (Luke 23:10). Unsatisfied with the anti-climatic turn of events, Herod made a mockery of Jesus; dressing Him in royal robes and sending Him back to Pilate.

Pilate Sentenced Him

Pilate knew Jesus had done nothing wrong (Luke 23:4), and even tried to wash his hands of the situation (Matt. 27:24). When offered a choice between releasing a known murderer or Jesus, the angry mob demanded the murderer be released and Christ be crucified. Giving in to the incessant pressure of the mob, Pilate handed Jesus over to them. This was the death sentence. The Son of God was condemned to a cross.

Today, we know the story of Jesus did not end in defeat. Long after the grave could not hold Him, we still have access to salvation because of His resurrection power! No, we may not be faced with the exact situational choices as the men and women we read about, but the narrative surrounding the final days of Christ’s life still serves to show us how people respond to Christ in many different ways. For those who desire everlasting peace in heaven, the answer of what to do with Him is quite clear:

We must weep over our sin. Then, going beyond just remorse, guilt, or avoidance, we repent and turn to Him as the sole object of our worship. In doing so, we come to experience the riches of His grace, and peace beyond all comprehension.

What will you do with Jesus?  

5 Signs of a Dangerous Pastor

Trustworthy leadership is hard to find. Inside and outside Christianity, men and women with fancy letters behind their names are doing nasty things to innocent people – and children. It’s becoming more and more apparent that academic degrees (while important) and achievements (while admirable) are not the measure of success for a leader.

Integrity is.

I recently tweeted about the “5 signs of a dangerous pastor” and wanted to add some commentary to each of the 5 points in an effort to shed more light on this topic. While it’s understandable that an article like this is not an exciting read, there are people who need to read it. For those who are trying to discern whether or not to stay at their church, this is a huge deal. Just like lives are changed every day when people find faithful pastors who labor in Christ-exalting service, lives are changed for the better every time someone escapes the dangerous ones too. If just one family – no, one individual – is made more aware of what to look for in a church leader because of a list like this, it’s worth it all.

If you’re a pastor, this list is the mirror of conviction we can stand in front of; asking the Holy Spirit to expose where we’ve been compromising and trusting His power to set us straight. If you’re a church member who suddenly realizes this list fits the bill of your pastor – and has for a long time – buckle up. You may need to find a new church.

Here are the 5 signs:

  1. The Pastor Insulates Himself

This is the pastor who surrounds himself with a system of layers; making it nearly impossible to get valuable time with him. Still, he makes sure to appear personable and approachable in public settings. He insulates himself because he’s CEO-minded and deeply believes that the best way to grow the church is to be distant from the people. This pragmatic approach gives him a sort of “holy-aura” as he attempts to make himself a novelty to his followers. Like the Pope waving from an ivory tower in the Vatican City, the pastor who insulates himself can remain god-like in status while doing whatever he pleases out of sight. You won’t find him doing a whole lot of discipleship. This guy is the show-and-go type. You see him Sunday – then he’s gone!

  1. The Pastor is Threatened by Smart Individuals

This is the pastor who can’t stand educated and discerning people who ask tough questions. He will tolerate some question-asking because he’s smart enough to appear fair and tolerant. However, you won’t find men with a high degree of theological knowledge hanging around for very long. This threatens his pride. Instead of receiving constructive wisdom from those who may even be wiser, or being open to feedback from people within the congregation, he patronizes those with less experience and demeans those with less knowledge. This pastor draws influence and power from knowing more than others do – or appearing like he does. He maintains a long term following by drawing unsuspecting people he can manipulate.

  1. The Pastor Punishes Those Who Disagree

This is the pastor who creates a punitive culture within the church. This church becomes a place where it’s the dogmatic pastor’s way or the highway. Should you or anyone else even think about gently pointing out inconsistencies in the theological positions he holds, you run the risk of being privately shamed. Think about addressing something unbiblical or unethical within the church, and you run the risk of public retribution. For staff members, this means the loss of livelihood. For church members, this could mean the loss of reputation in the community as the pastor publically or privately paints an opponent in a negative light.

  1. The Pastor is Obsessed with His Own Vision

This pastor knows exactly what he wants and his will, ahem…I mean God’s will be done. You may hear this pastor say something like, “I started this church and this is how it’s going to be!” or “This is my church and no one is going to take it from me!” Those exclamatory statements may seem shocking but they are not uncommon. So is all “vision” bad? No. It’s actually beneficial when a leader has a plan for the future of a church but all a pastor needs to say about “his vision” is that his vision is to do what the Bible says to do. Unfortunately, many churches only hire people if they sign on to serve “Pastor Steven’s vision” (or Mark’s, Jim’s, and Greg’s). Guess what? The church has nothing to do with a man’s vision. It’s about Christ’s. No church growth book can change that, no advice from a pragmatic guru can change that, and no amount of pastoral kicking and screaming can change that. The church belongs to Jesus.

  1. The Pastor Twists the Bible to Fit His Own Rules

From elders who aren’t really biblical elders, to using money for whatever he deems noble and necessary, this pastor views stewardship and accountability systems as very fluid concepts. In other words, stewardship is really about what he wants to do vs. what he must manage on behalf of the church. Accountability, to this pastor, is about putting “yes” men in key positions. In most cases, this pastor will boast about his high level of accountability and adherence to Scriptural authority in order to appear trustworthy. He will claim them to be his deepest convictions until those things infringe on his decision making process, then the twisted game begins. Instead of admitting a mistake or facing the difficult pain of owning a poor decision, he twists (even ignores) the Bible to fit his own rules and make excuses for his decision making.

This kind of leadership is not the kind of leadership that Jesus had in mind when He promised to build His church (Matthew 16:18). If this is the kind of autocratic ruler that dominates your assembly week-in and week-out, run to safety – even if it means switching denominations for a while.

Recommended Resource: “9Marks of a Healthy Church” by Mark Dever

 

Will a Man Rob God? 5 Key Questions About Tithing 10%

A Twitter poll on my page last week asked a simple question about tithing. After well over 1,000 votes (with 17 hours still left in the poll) the results were both encouraging and concerning. It seems that the modern church is still in a hot debate over tithing.

For your consideration, here is a snapshot (with link) to the results and comments:

For your edification, here is a biblical examination of tithing and the model for New Testament giving:

“Will a man rob God? Yet you are robbing Me! But you say, ‘How have we robbed You?’ In tithes and offerings. You are cursed with a curse, for you are robbing Me, the whole nation of you! Bring the whole tithe into the storehouse, so that there may be food in My house, and test Me now in this,” says the Lord of hosts, “if I will not open for you the windows of heaven and pour out for you a blessing until it overflows” (Malachi 3:8-10).

The usual passage of choice for most tithe-pushing preachers is Malachi 3:8-10. The typical pre-sermon message you may hear on a Sunday morning before the offering is taken could last any number of minutes. We could probably recite it together having heard it so many times in churches of varying denominations – especially prosperity gospel churches.

It starts a little something like this:

Now I want to talk to you this morning before we take the tithes and offerings. Open up your Bible to Malachi chapter 3 and ask yourself, ‘Am I robbing God’? If you’re not tithing 10% to God, you are.”

Whether it lasts ten minutes or thirty minutes, what follows is an application of a passage from a book of the Bible in which God speaks through the prophet Malachi to the people of Israel about about their spiritual condition at that time. This is before the coming of the Messiah – Jesus. God is displeased with the people concerning their defiled sacrifices (1:7), their profaning of His name (1:12), their corrupted priests (2:9), and their open disobedience (3:8-15). This is excellent prophetic literature to preach in a church and there is so much to learn about Israel, God’s character, and the coming of Christ.

Unfortunately, it is primarily used to tell modern-day churches that they have to tithe 10% of their income or else they will be under a curse (Malachi 3:9), and that they have to bring those tithes into the “storehouse” (Malachi 3:10) – interpreting the “storehouse” to mean the church, or in some cases, the pastor’s bank account.

When it comes to “tithing,” so much is assumed because of ignorance, or bad Bible teaching. Some say that tithing is a command from the Old Testament that carries over to the New Testament. Others say it’s just a useful principle, while others insist on certain eras of church history being our model for tithing. Finally, there are those who simply believe they must tithe because it’s what they’ve always been told.

Let’s answer some important questions based on the Bible – not assumptions. This may alleviate a heavy burden you’ve been carrying concerning this subject.

What is a “Tithe”?

Tithing simply means “the tenth part” or “one-tenth.” We see the tithe instituted in the Bible in the Old Testament law, and in a few select cases before the law when some made vows or one time offerings (Genesis 14:20; Genesis 28:22). The tithe involved a percentage of one’s livestock, seed, or produce. When the Old Testament law for the tithe is studied, one discovers some foundational truths that cannot be overlooked:

  • Total tithes would have conservatively been over 20% when multiple tithes are added up (Leviticus 27:30-32; Numbers 18:21, 24; Deuteronomy 14:22-27; 14:28-29).
  • The Priesthood was not allowed by God to own land or inheritance so the tithe provided for their living and needs (Numbers 18:24).
  • The tithes acted as a kind of taxation system that helped provide for the poor, annual festivals, and the operation of the governing priesthood system (Deuteronomy 14:22-29; Nehemiah 12:44).
  • Tithing did not primarily involve money except for certain circumstances (Deuteronomy 14:25).
  • Withholding the tithe was viewed as defiant disobedience in God’s eyes (Malachi 3:9).
  • Tithes (produce and other) would have been kept in a literal storehouse for proper distribution (1 Chronicles 27:25-27).
  • God views the storehouse and His house as distinctly separate (Malachi 3:10).

With that in mind, let’s draw biblical conclusions:

  • Israel gave of its produce, seed, and livestock.
  • The Priests were supported by tithes because they were not allowed to own things.
  • Tithing far exceeded 10%.
  • Tithing was law, much like a taxation system caring for national Israel.
  • Storehouses were literal, not “spiritual” or references to the temple.

How is Old Testament Teaching Misapplied Today?

Firstly, anytime someone is misinterpreting the Bible we need to be careful not to jump to aggressive conclusions. No one is a heretic for getting certain things wrong, but error is serious and can mislead people – that is a stewardship issue of its own.

Secondly, we need to determine what people are teaching and why. Do they have certain theological positions that lend to merging the Old Testament into the New? Do they make a habit of basing their teachings merely on historical “principles” and extra-biblical research, rather than biblical texts and proper exegesis (the process of “excavating” a biblical text)? Or, are they twisting Scripture in an obvious fashion to suit their financial desires and abusive ministry patterns? All of these are important questions to ask upon seeing a misapplication of Scripture.

Here are some common ways the “tithe” is misapplied today. Some of these are more dangerous than others, but all are worth noting:

  • The “storehouse” in Malachi 3:10 is taught to be God’s house – the church – or in many cases the pastor’s bank account.
  • Insisting that a 10% tithe is law while leaving out all of the other laws on tithes and offering.
  • Tithing is taught as a command for New Testament church goers and they are threatened with divine judgment if they do not give 10% gross on all their income.
  • Tithing is accompanied by a special anointing that can unlock special blessings like job promotions, debt-freedom, or even salvation of loved ones.
  • Avoiding Paul’s instruction on giving in favor of teaching Old Testament law.
  • Concluding that because Jesus didn’t denounce tithing that we must still do it.

Did Jesus Talk About Tithing?

A select few New Testament passages bring up the tithe, but nowhere is the church commanded to tithe. Some will insist on tithing in the modern church based on the fact that Jesus didn’t denounce tithing in passages like Matthew 23:23, and Luke 11:42. However, what Jesus said in certain situations (such as scolding the Pharisees in Matt. 23:23) had more to do with calling these people hypocrites than mandating the tithe as command for the church. The Pharisees would keep one aspect of the law but turn around and break another for their own gain. They oppressed people with laws they couldn’t even keep themselves! One cannot take an honest interpretive leap into presuming the church must tithe based on that.

To use Jesus’ words as an argument for tithing is a slippery slope when proper context is understood.

Can Tithing Be Assumed for the Church?

Some may argue that the New Testament church would have already known about tithing because they were familiar with Jewish law and assumed it to be a rule of thumb. Or, that at the very least, it could be a principle they could apply as an essential practice to obey. Aside from numerous interpretive holes in this argument, one glaring oversight is that the church was not comprised of merely Jews, and obedience to the law was not the focus of the church – Christ was. Paul was assigned to the Gentiles and the early church was packed with Gentile converts. If tithing was something for the early church to carry on from Jewish law, then why wouldn’t tithing be taught in his letters to the Corinthians? Galatians? Colossians? Not only are commands or teaching about tithing completely absent from New Testament imperatives for the church, the concept of giving is taught explicitly without teaching on tithing. What Paul teaches about giving is a grace-filled, New-Covenant-focused, Gospel-centered rewrite altogether.

We are no longer under the law.

How Should We Be Giving Today?

If we base our teaching and giving on the proper context of what the New Testament actually teaches, we will find both clarity and freedom. Many churches are scared to loosen the noose of “tithing” from their people for fear that no one will give. In other words, they assume that instead of giving bountifully and generously as the Spirit leads, people will either decrease or even cease giving altogether. This is a pessimistic view; thinking quite low of Christians and their propensity to obey the Bible. It also neglects to remember that giving generously is still very much a part of the Christian life.

When properly instructed, doesn’t every true believer want to do what is right in God’s eyes? If we teach and obey the Bible properly, won’t giving increase as God blesses the church for His glorious work? Won’t the needs of the saints be met? Won’t the church thrive in joyfully unity? Wouldn’t the rich live as gospel patrons and the poor give sacrificially as equal partners in God’s eyes?

Think of it this way: giving 10% could be under-giving for a millionaire, and back-breaking for someone in poverty. But if both gave the way the New Testament instructs, the millionaire may give upwards of 80% and still have quite a surplus, while the impoverished and sacrificial giver may give 2-3% and be stepping out in faith. God sees the heart, and the sacrifice – not the amount. Some people may desire to use 10% as a baseline, or a group of leaders may commit to giving a certain amount together to support the church – great! But none of this is mandated “tithing,” it is simply a commitment.

The Holy Spirit’s words through Paul in 2 Corinthians 8 should be taken more seriously, as should the Macedonian example of giving. Instead of teaching law-driven tithes to church-age saints, why not just trust the God who wrote and preserved the Bible (Isaiah 40:8; 2 Timothy 3:16-17) to work powerfully through His truth rightly applied?

Based on two of the premier New Testament chapters on biblical giving that were written by Paul, here are ten ways we should be giving in the church today. Not tithing…giving:

  1. As a result of the grace of God (2 Corinthians 8:1).
  2. In tough times and in poverty (2 Corinthians 8:2a, 2c).
  3. Joyfully and cheerfully (2 Corinthians 8:2b; 9:7).
  4. Based on ability, not mandated percentages (2 Corinthians 8:3a).
  5. Sacrificially (2 Corinthians 8:3b).
  6. Voluntarily, not by way of manipulation or compulsion (2 Corinthians 8:3c; 9:7).
  7. With a sense of eager participation in Gospel work (2 Corinthians 8:4).
  8. Out of love for the Lord (2 Corinthians 8:5a).
  9. Generously as the Lord provides (2 Corinthians 9:6).
  10. Trusting God to replenish what is given so more can be given (2 Corinthians 9:10-11).

What a refreshing difference Paul’s words are from so many sermons that pull Old Testament verses out of context and apply them however a preacher fancies. Like the grace of God shattering the old bondage of the law and pouring out upon the church age, New Testament instructions on giving are liberal, generous, and Gospel-motivated! Not only is applying the requirement of a 10% tithe part of an inconsistent system of interpretation, it’s highly limiting when you think about how generous the church is encouraged to be. Giving isn’t an issue of the law, it’s an issue of the heart. The Macedonians were poor, but they gave like they were rich. They didn’t scour in obedience to the law, they rejoiced in the privilege of being a conduit of God’s grace. That is the perfect picture of how a Christian is to give in the New Covenant.

When properly understood in context and faithfully taught with conviction, the Scriptures give us all we need to be biblically minded – and biblically balanced – generous givers.

Reaching Those Caught in Deception

Like all generations throughout church history, one of the primary focuses we need to be pre-occupied with today is taking the gospel to those who have never heard it before. However, as apostasy increases and seemingly faithful men and women go rogue theologically, we’ll need not only “outreach” (to those who’ve never heard the gospel), but great emphasis on “inreach” (to those believing in a false gospel). Yes, many false Christians are getting the teachers they raised up for themselves (2 Timothy 4:3-4), but within the masses of apostates there are sheep who need to be rescued. We’re faced with the tall task of evangelism within our own ranks and it’s no walk in the park. One moment we see a glimmer of hope in someone we reach try to reach, only to experience another moment of sorrow when someone we love is swept up in deceit. Maybe you’ve blown up a few Thanksgiving dinners trying to tell people like it is, or held personal crusades at work during a lunch break. In the end, many Christians who are trying to reach those caught in deception are left wondering how people could be so blind? How do they not see that what they believe or are being taught is not in line with Scripture? Even when you show them the Bible and put that up next to the lies they’re being taught, they just don’t see it! Why won’t they change in light of the truth? Questions swirl in our mind as we wonder what to do and how to do it.

A Biblical Roadmap for Rescue

No doubt that’s what Jude’s readers would have dealing with as well back in the early days of the church. Apostasy suddenly everywhere; people who’d seemed to have made a genuine confession of faith were being carried away by false doctrines. It was hard to tell who the good guys were and who should be avoided. Further, they would have been seeing friends and family get targeted by deceivers just like we do today.

Is there a clear roadmap for distinguishing when to walk with someone patiently, when to rush in and go for the all-out rescue, and when to put distance between ourselves and the danger? We undoubtedly need to share the truth and be on mission as Christians, but biblical strategies need to be employed.

Jude shows us how: 

Jude 22 – “And have mercy on some, who are doubting…”

The Doubters are the group that may challenge your patience the most because you just want them to wake up and see the plain truth.  Doubting (diakrino) literally gives the picture of someone wavering on the line, then partial to one side but uncertain, then in the middle but hesitant to fully cross over. Imagine the people who drive you a little crazy because you just want them to make a decision already! These are confused individuals; vulnerable and have been manipulated by clever false teachers. Keep the door open for them. Get into their life. Take off your shoes, stay a while, and build relationship with them for the purpose of reaching them. You don’t drive by and toss a study Bible at them saying, “Here! Figure this out then we can talk.” You buy them a study Bible and commit to coffee meet-ups for however long it takes. Your goal is to live between the tension of convincing them about the truth, and depending on God to open their eyes to the truth. Put your own heart issues before the Lord and resist the urge to use brash and harsh words. Remember God’s mercy towards you, learn patience, ask questions, and stick with them. God has you in their life for a reason.

Jude 23a – “save others, snatching them out of the fire…”

The Deceived are fully convinced they have the real truth. We are to be in full rescue operation mode with them – boldly confronting their errors and calling them to repentance. Like a coast guard helicopter flying into an offshore storm, we’re on the lookout for those drowning in the sea of apostasy, dropping the rope, and pulling them up. And if they reject the rope? We never stop praying, never stop trying, and never stop hoping they will be awakened to the danger they are in. Jude undoubtedly understands the sovereignty of God in saving His children and in keeping His children saved, but he’s equally aware of the vessels through which God so often saves. That is, the faithful witness of His people! (Acts 1:8; Romans 10:17). Snatching (harpazo) is the same word used in John 10:12 of the wolf snatching the sheep away from the hireling shepherd, and in John 10:28 of no one being able to snatch Jesus’ sheep from His hand. Jude has in mind a quick and alert state of readiness to rescue people. Notice there is no opt-out clause. No amendment. No free pass because of God’s sovereignty. No giving up because they reject you. A true Christian is patiently, yet relentlessly looking for opportunities to snatch brands from the burning.

Jude 23b – “and on some have mercy with fear, hating even the garment polluted by the flesh.”

The Dangerous are those whose garments have been soiled with Satanic deception. They are those who fly the flag of false doctrines with pride, convincing people with their smooth talk and flattery (Romans 16:18). They fill the seats of churches, infiltrate the highest levels of authority, and undermine Christ through greed and heretical teaching (2 Peter 2:1-3). They are bold loyalists to apostasy, enemies of the truth, and set against Christ. We must never sacrifice the truth in the name of unity with these, yet we are called to be merciful so as to not be indifferent to the fact that they still have a soul in need of salvation. Yet, we show mercy with a fearsome devotion to our own morality and doctrinal purity. One commentator writes, “Mercy takes into account moral distinctions. It does not treat evil as of no consequence. Christians have mercy with fear, hating even the garment spotted by the flesh.” What this means is we are acutely aware of where they are heading but believing that God can change anyone so long as they’re breathing. We’re aware that many will fall away but we’re also fixated on our role to evangelize everyone in sight. We’re wincing in agony for their defilement of the gospel but calling them to repentance from a healthy distance.

It is biblical instruction like this that keeps us both tough and tender. Tough on truth – unwavering in our commitment to it. Yet, tender in our hope that apostates turn to the truth – praying for their souls.

Sometimes we’re playing offense. Sometimes we’re playing defense. All along, we must be trusting God’s power to save His people (Romans 1:16), and being faithful to play our part.

God is Good… All the Time

Think about the best things that have happened to you lately. If you’re a Christian who has received a promotion, a raise, a new car, a bigger home, a newer home, a good report from the doctor, a healthy baby delivered, or that job you’ve always wanted…you’ve probably said these words:

“God is so good!” And you’re absolutely right…He is.

But could there be more to His goodness than just the bright side of your story? It seems like our first response when things are going right is to declare His goodness, but the Bible paints a picture of God’s character of goodness even in the darker times. Was God still good when He allowed Satan to afflict Job with suffering? Was God still good when He didn’t answer Paul’s prayer to remove the torment of Satan via the thorn in the flesh? Now personalize it. Is God still good if you lose your job, lose your home, can’t have a child, or doctor says you have 6 months to live?

It’s a sobering thought that will test the core foundation of how we view God.

God’s goodness is based on His character. Which means that your career advancement and good health are unrelated to whether or not He is good. He is good and He is good all the time – no matter what our circumstances might be.

Consider the following biblical examples of how God’s goodness means more than just good times:

The Example The Extent The Edification
Job (Job 1-3, Job 38-42) Job loses his kids, his health, his wealth and friends; His wife says, “Curse God!” Job experiences a deeper relationship with God, is blessed by God, restored.
Paul (2 Corinthians 12:7-10) A messenger of Satan that torments Paul like a thorn in the flesh. God won’t alleviate his torment. Paul experiences the extravagance of God’s grace and learns that God’s power is perfected in weak people.
The Church in Smyrna (Revelation 2:8-11) They suffer. The devil is allowed to cast them into prison, yet they must be faithful unto death. They received the crown of life and enter into the eternal glory of God as honored martyrs.
Peter (Luke 22:31-34) Satan asks permission to sift Peter like wheat – is allowed. Denies Jesus and fails Him. Peter is restored, becomes a pillar of strength in the early church. Suffers faithfully; never to deny His Lord again.

These examples are just the tip of the iceberg. When we search through the pages of Scripture we quickly find that God is good no matter what we’re going through, and that His purposes and methods are beyond what we can comprehend. That doesn’t change the reality of our pain at certain times, but as real as the suffering is, the rewards and blessings for those who remain faithful are monumentally greater – and priceless.

Though God may allow Satan to roam the earth on His leash for a time, there is coming a day when Satan will be bound and cast into the lake of fire for eternity (Rev. 20:1-15). In the grand scheme of things, he is simply a pawn on God’s chess board as He works all things together for His good (Rom. 8:28).

Always remember, God’s allowance of your trials is rooted in love. He loves you so much that He will grow you and sanctify you until eternity, then reward you for being faithful – how good is that?

Enjoy the daily battle in the faith as it is used to test you, shape you, and grow you for the glory of God (Phil. 1:6).

God is good…. all the time.

Chasing a Title or Carrying a Towel

When it comes to leadership, how do you measure greatness?

The mother of James and John thought it was having the best seats in Christ’s Kingdom (Matthew 20:20-21). There are those today who would certainly say that church size, book deals, Twitter following, and global influence are sure signs of high status.

Our salacious, ever growing appetite for affirmation leads us to view the academic letters behind a last name as the moment of “arrival.” Ambitious and youthful pastors think greatness is eventually achieved when their subjective calling to ministry finally lands them an objective goal: The #1 spot in the pulpit.

But is that what greatness is in the end? Is leadership simply climbing a ladder of power, so as to eventually be a shot-caller? When it comes to leadership, if greatness is defined by a spot on the executive board, a large following, fancy letters, and dominating a one-way conversation on a weekly basis because you hold the mic, we need an intervention.

The church does need greatness to live out its purpose in Christ, but in God’s eyes, great leaders are great servants. Just a cursory glance through the New Testament reveals that the word leader is used rarely when compared to the word servant. That’s not to say that leadership is not an important or prominent theme throughout the Bible (it is), but it is to say that leadership is not so much about carrying a fancy title as it is about carrying a servant’s towel.

No one nails having a humble servant’s heart every day, yet certain trends in our life reflect God’s grace in the midst of our own ambitious drive for significance in ministry.

If you are one of those passionate souls who believe they must do something great on this earth, here are three ways things to consider what greatness truly is:

1.) We Must Be Decreasing

Of all the people in the Bible, perhaps John the Baptist could have been the one who’d be let off the hook if he took just a little bit of the spotlight from Jesus. After all, he was the forerunner and ultimate set up man for Christ. Instead, he said he wasn’t the Christ, he wasn’t Elijah, and he wasn’t even a prophet. When pressed for the real story, all he could muster up was quite possibly the most unimpressive personal bio history has known. If John the Baptist had Facebook, the about section would read, “Just a voice. Not worthy to tie Christ’s sandals. Consistently decreasing and not worth a follow. Link to Jesus’ profile ‘here.’”

It can be a monumental challenge to stomach the obscurity that comes from consistent “decrease,” but it’s part of every pastor’s journey. There may be seasons when a gifted pastor is not in the pulpit, but desperately wants to be. There may be seasons when a pastor is called to play a supporting role in someone else’s ministry – and could do more on his own. None of this matters in the grand scheme of what God is constantly teaching His servants. If we cannot accept that His plans and timing are better than ours, that’s a sign that we are still living with an “I must increase” mentality.

Obscurity doesn’t mean obsolete. You don’t need to see your impact to have an impact. John the Baptist was locked in a prison waiting for his head to roll while Jesus – the Jesus he got to baptize – was adding disciples by the minute.

Greatness is giving up what you could do for what you must do. Everybody can be great.

2.) We Must Be Feet Washing

Yes, it’s true, regardless of how above-the-task we think we are. Imagine Jesus the Christ taking the towel and the basin as he washed the feet of Judas the Betrayer. Surely, a towel has much to do with greatness (John 3:1-17; Luke 22:24-27).

Greatness isn’t doing ministry from an ivory tower. Greatness isn’t well-manicured finger nails that click a wireless mouse through hours of Logos. Greatness isn’t preaching all the biggest conferences.

Greatness is bowing low to wash feet.

Ministry is messy and Jesus knew we would all long for clear calendars, simple churches, and well-behaved congregations that don’t interrupt our day in the study, so He showed us a better way. Dirty, smelly, crooked, cracked feet are the key.

Even for those who make our lives difficult. When no one is watching. And when no one washes ours. Greatness is grabbing a towel.

3.) We Must Be Stewarding

Paul set the standard for the greatness of a church leader by modeling the greatness of a servant. He considered himself a slave of Christ (Philippians 1:1), and a steward of the mysteries of God (1 Corinthians 4:1). The criteria for a steward in his mind was faithfulness (4:2). As we consider how we will leave a mark on this earth in ministry, it is imperative that we consider what it means to be a steward of all God has given us.

We will be called to give an account for how we managed for the Master. A leadership title is a responsibility that involves accountability (1 Corinthians 3:13; 2 Corinthians 5:10). Stewardship is weighty in light of the implications.

On the minister as a steward Charles Spurgeon wrote,

…a steward is a servant, and no more. Perhaps he does not always remember this; and it is a very pitiful business when the servant begins to think that he is “my lord.” It is a pity that servants, when honoured by their master, should be so apt to give themselves airs. How ridiculous Jack-in-office makes himself! I do not refer now to butlers and footmen, but to ourselves. If we magnify ourselves, we shall become contemptible; and we shall neither magnify our office nor our Lord. We are the servants of Christ, and not lords over His heritage. Ministers are for churches, and not churches for ministers. In our work among the churches, we must not dare to view them as estates to be farmed for our own profit, or gardens to be trimmed to our own taste. Some men talk of a liberal polity in their church. Let them be liberal with what is their own; but for a steward of Christ to boast of being liberal with his Master’s goods, is quite another matter.

Greatness isn’t in the title you’re called, it’s in the towel you carry.

Embracing Evangelism

Whenever the word “evangelism” comes up, it’s not uncommon for Christians to experience some sort of emotional response that is less than pleasant. Eye rolling, ear plugging, or even church hopping are all strategies that some will employ just to avoid the topic altogether.

To be fair, many Christians just don’t know, or have never been properly taught what evangelism actually is. Worse, far too many pastors do not teach or expect their church to boldly live out the life-changing power of the Gospel. As long as the people show up, give their money, and keep the lights on, everybody goes home happy. Those are all necessary things, but is that really all that the church is supposed to do while we wait for the King to return? Hardly.

This type of common Christianity I’ve just described is barely Christianity at all. It’s maintenance mode, possibly even lukewarm! If a church won’t challenge its cruise-control Christianity it’s bound to become the church of the frozen few [no matter how many thousands fill the seats].

Most people view evangelism as a programmatic, door-to-door effort that that people are forced to engage in. It’s as though somewhere along the way church leaders thought it would actually showcase the manifold wisdom of God (Ephesians 3:8-10) to make evangelism a “drive by” activity like handing out tracks to strangers at the beach, or giving away free turkeys in poor neighborhoods. Are either of those bad things? Certainly not. But even the world can hand out marketing material and free food to the needy during the holidays. So what can the church do that no other thing on this earth can do?

The church can be the church! 

That’s exactly how Christ intended it to be. Think about the way that the apostles laid the foundation with preaching the truth and living according to the truth. Peter didn’t dish out papyrus tracks or free pita bread to people and then invite them to come check out the weekend “experience” so that he could cross off “evangelism” on his to do list. The apostles and the early church lived lives that showcased truth, transformation, restoration, obedience, love, and sacrifice! That’s the life changing power of the Gospel in action.

The church has long since been established but the process of evangelism remains the same. The church lives the truth because it loves the truth, then people are attracted to the truth. For 2000 years people have been miraculously saved by this process and brought into right relationship with the Father under the Lordship of Christ.

This world doesn’t need any more clever evangelism programs or Christian gimmicks. What this world needs is for the church to be the church.

Do you want to spend less time being a one hit wonder on Sundays and more time being the church all week long?

If so, start by changing your mind about evangelism. Real evangelism isn’t a program, it’s a people! It’s you. It happens in your decisions, in your relationships, at work, at family functions, at weddings, at funerals, and even when you think nobody is watching. It’s not just the pastor’s job, it’s everybody‘s job. The body of Christ in the local church is responsible to be His ambassadors in every way possible and each member will stand accountable for how they represented the Lord one day.

Will you be standing before Him with your head bowed in repentant regret or will you fall at His feet with humble adoration claiming, “Master! Thank you for using this clay pot as a vessel for Your glory!”?

In his book, Marks of the Messenger, J. Mack Stiles offers some practical ways for every Christian to become a healthier evangelist.

Here are 10 based on his list:

Disclaimer: These are counter-cultural ideas. Be ready for pushback from people who say you take this “church” thing too seriously.

  1. Attend a church that takes the gospel seriously (Hebrews 10:25). Treat form as secondary, the gospel as primary. Incense and candles, rock band worship, liturgy, Gregorian chants, a pastor with tattoos…these are “form” and therefore secondary. Clear Gospel presentation from the leadership is primary.

  2. Become an actual member of a church. I’m serious; membership shows your loving commitment to one another. This is truly radical. Go against the grain and show that you are really crazy in love with Jesus and join a church. And just think, the less cool the church the more opportunity to demonstrate real love!

  3. Turn down jobs that might take you away from church even if they pay more.

  4. Arrange family vacations around your church’s schedule. Or better yet, take your family on a short-term mission trip with other members instead of a family vacation. This will blow people’s minds.

  5. Move to a house closer to the church and use your house as a place of hospitality (Romans 12:13).

  6. Practice church discipline. It’s biblical (Matthew 18:15-17). This is truly off the charts-radical. Church discipline is not usually what people think it is; the goal of church discipline is always to restore, not to punish. You may offend people, but then again you may save some people from living a hell on earth – or for eternity.

  7. Respect the authority in the church when leaders are biblically qualified (1 Thessalonians 5:12-13; Hebrews 13:17). Think about it. How many church people fall into the bad habit of bad mouthing their leaders over every little thing? So the sermon went 10 minutes too long? Thank God you got 10 extra minutes of truth from your faithful pastor.

  8. Turn heads by really practicing the biblical teachings on giving an receiving forgiveness. Be quick to forgive others (Ephesians 4:32). Be quick to say you’re sorry (Matthew 5:23-24). Forgiveness may be one of the most radical ways to express love and unity in a congregation, and it’s rarely practiced.

  9. Pray for each other (Ephesians 6:18). Don’t just say you’ll pray. Actually put into place some ways to pray for each and every member.

  10. Focus on caring for one another spiritually by discipling one another (Galatians 6:1-2). Though discipling only looks like having lunch, it’s secretly and subversively radical. Over a Caesar salad ask the dangerous question: “How are things spiritually?”

Do you have any idea how many questions people will ask you over the years if you live out just half the things on this list?  Every single time you answer them with the truth you will expose them to the life-changing power of the gospel.

If a church will live, love, and labor like this, the results will be an evangelistic overhaul in the community around them. The power of the gospel is unstoppable and every Christian is an ambassador armed with that power when they walk in the truth.

Remember, evangelism is not a program, it’s a people!

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Recommended reading:
Evangelism by J. Mack Stiles
Marks of the Messenger by J. Mack Stiles
The Gospel and Personal Evangelism by Mark Dever