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10 Lessons from Online Seminary

This article may ruffle the feathers of those who teach, attend, or believe in mandated on-campus seminary training, but don’t get too fired up just yet. Let’s start by agreeing on this: physically going to seminary can be vitally important for a ministry leader.

As valuable as physically attending seminary can be, the local church has always proven to be the most ideal breeding and training ground for future leaders. You could say that the church (when fulfilling its task) is the ultimate “Bible institute.” Unfortunately, not every church has the resources to do this. Therefore, seminaries are incredibly valuable to compliment — not supplement — local church training and experience.

Seminaries must exist today to support the local church, not replace it. Even further, seminarians must acknowledge this and realize they are not the end in themselves. Seminaries are merely a means to an end. Al Mohler once wrote, “Seminaries do not call pastors. God does. And seminaries do not make pastors. Churches do. Keeping that straight is important.”

I’ve attended seminary in person (Talbot School of Theology) and on two occasions considered leaving my local church and job as a pastor in order to move my family to Los Angeles and go “all in” at The Master’s Seminary. Eventually, I chose to stay at my church, serve under the elders and be discipled by the lead pastor, and finish my seminary education online through Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary.

Here are ten lessons I learned along the way:

1. I learned to rise early and manage my time in the real world
No sleeping in. No hoody and messy hair. No wasted hours. Going to school online as a married man with kids meant that I had to read books, write papers, do my full-time job on the church staff, and win at home all at the same time. More than that, losing control of my body and getting overweight because of stress eating was inexcusable (but tempting!). Therefore, waking up 4am or 5am was something I learned to embrace — and even, love sometimes. As a certified “night owl,” I enjoy staying up late and spending time with people. But if I wanted to study to show myself approved (2 Timothy 2:15), and be sane when it was over, discipline was mandatory. I remember one semester I put on twenty-eight pounds and was a mess from trying to “do it all” and please people. Stress eating and Netflix binging became a dangerously soothing escape. That was a painful but helpful lesson. Soon after, I used my calendar to track nearly every minute of every day, and I learned to only do what was important, no matter what people-pleasing temptations arose.

2. I learned that systematic theology classes don’t teach you how to build teams, created processes, and implement systems
Pastoring seven years is not that long, but it’s long enough to learn a very hard but necessary lesson. If I can write 10,000-word papers on systematic theology but I can’t get a ministry off the ground, there is going to be pastoral pain once on staff. As an online learner, I was able to still get the knowledge I needed, while learning to fail and succeed at what matters most: leading people in ministry and moving them towards a biblical vision. Knowing all your “ologies” can help you answer questions like a sage, but it’s not going to guarantee that you know how to build teams and execute strategic initiatives like Nehemiah. The latter is going to be equally as important for a pastor.

3. I learned that knowing Koine Greek isn’t a superpower
I was sitting my first ever Greek class at Talbot and Doug Geringer stepped up to the front of the class. He was a soft-spoken, caring, and wise professor who started things off in a way that etched in mind forever. He began by saying, “Open up your Bibles.” We did. “The translation you are looking at is incredibly close to the original language it was written in.” We pondered. “Therefore, if you think that taking this class is going to give you superpowers, you will be sincerely disappointed.” We deflated. Professor Geringer began to explain that God chose a simple, commoners language (Koine) to convey divine truths. The lesson that day was clear: We should be humbled, not haughty. We should see that knowing Greek is a tool to preach more faithfully, not a badge of pompous honor to hold above people’s heads. This stuck with me in the years that I continued my education online.

4. I learned that an online seminary wife needs a Titus 2 woman too
One benefit of in-person seminary training is the programs that they have for wives if you’re a married man. What was I to do without this valuable part of seminary life? I was an online student and could easily live and study on an island. I prayed and asked God to provide what was needed and he did. It was that simple. Shortly after I prayed, a 60-year-old woman who was a pastor’s wife and a pastor’s mother approached my wife and offered to disciple her. The rest was history.

5. I learned more from doing funerals and weddings than some classes
I can still name them and see their faces in the hospitals and at hospice bedsides. My pastor during the online seminary years often needed to focus on preaching and other hats he wore, and my role was focused mostly on people. Therefore, during any given online semester I found myself praying with dying members and preaching funerals by day, and studying hamartiology and church history by night. There were many failures, but there were many victories. I learned from hospital visits where death filled the room, from funerals that forced me to preach the gospel without fear, and from weddings where unsaved attendees laughed at God’s design for marriage. I could have learned a lot about death and marriage in a classroom, but nothing knocks you around and thickens your skin like the field.

6. I learned that I need my church even more than it needs me
In a book titled, “15 Things Seminary Couldn’t Teach Me,” Jeff Robinson Sr. gives a valuable lesson about humility in the chapter titled, “Knowledge and Credentials Aren’t Enough.” As much as pastors can be “gifts” to the local church, the local church is a gift to every pastor. I learned that my knowledge makes me useful when questions arise, and gaining wisdom allows a pastor to serve better. Better is good. But I also learned that I desperately need my church. I need their prayers, their friendships, their encouragement, and even their critiques, rebukes, and complaints. These shaping and sanctifying facets of the local church are good for the soul.

7. I learned that theory and practice are two very different things
You can talk about it, read about it, get straight “A’s” on it, and have fancy letters behind your name because you wrote the papers on it, but can you apply it? Theories and information are great to study and know, but they represent only half of any ministry equation. Can you implement what you know? Does it work? I remember having a “genius” idea during a staff meeting because of something I had heard in a class. I got everybody fired up about my idea, cast a hypothetical vision for it, and we were off to the races! I was certain it would work because I learned about it in a class. After a faceplant, some team drama, and a failed initiative, I realized that theory and practice are two very different things.

8. I learned that getting an “A” was not as important in winning at home and church
In the classroom or online, wise professors will teach the same lesson. A student who passes with flying colors in the classroom but fails at home or in the church has their priorities out of order. Year after year at MBTS I had professors reach out who would push me to make sure family priorities were in balance. Every semester the online professor calls students and quite often they would reiterate the importance of being faithful with home, church, then assignment obligations.

9. I learned that pain, trials, and local church service are the best classroom there is
No amount of classroom learning can replace what trials will do to every seminarian. The pain of loss, failure, pride, and suffering shapes like nothing else can. God uses the classroom to enhance the head knowledge of a pastor, but he uses suffering and trials to shape their holiness. Reading textbooks will never test and train like the school of suffering.

10. I learned that seminary doesn’t make you a pastor
Charles Spurgeon didn’t have one. Martyn-Lloyd Jones didn’t have one. And numerous others throughout church history didn’t have a seminary degree. This is not something to boast about or a reason not to go to seminary, but it is a humbling reminder that a degree doesn’t make the man — God does. He does that through the process of a man studying, serving, and suffering in the local church. At the same time, we wouldn’t want to go to a heart surgeon who hasn’t studied to be one and proven to be a successful one. Similarly, we need pastors who are trained and who have proven to be faithful in their calling. Once more, Al Mohler offers valuable and balanced wisdom as a seminary president explaining,

Though a faithful pastor needs an education in exegesis, he is made in the preparation and delivery of sermons to the people of God. He needs the theological studies gained in seminary, but that theology is eventually hammered out when the pastor is called to preach the funeral of a child. A background in hermeneutics and homiletics is vital, but the preacher discovers his real method of interpretation and his real understanding of preaching when deciding how to preach a specific text to a specific people—and then preaching to the same congregation again and again and again.

So what should you do if you’re trying to decide between going to seminary or completing your seminary degree online? Pray, talk to your spouse, pastor, and even some professors. Make a “T-chart” of pros and cons, analyze your age, current financial reality, current opportunities, elder affirmations (or lack thereof), expenses and revenues, job opportunities, and long-term goals. Then, make your decision and give it all you’ve got with no regrets. Just remember: it’s only a means to an end (Matthew 16:18).

Recommended Reading:

15 Things Seminary Couldn’t Teach Me (ed. Colin Hansen and Robinson)

Discerning Your Call to Ministry (Jason K. Allen)

Dangerous Calling (Paul Tripp)

Found: God’s Will (Jon MacArthur)

One With a Shepherd (Mary Somerville)

The Character of Leadership (Jeff Iorg)

Seven Habits of Highly Effective People (Stephen Covey)

3 Ways to Kill Gossip

You don’t tolerate gossip in the church. You slaughter it.

If you don’t, it’ll slaughter sheep.

There are few more sinister and Satanic assaults on the inside of the church than gossip. Like a parasitic demon, it often creeps in under the guise of victimhood; whispering to its host, “You really need to share your hurts and opinions with someone. It’s the Christian thing to do.”

Gossip also offers its wisdom like a warm blanket; surrounding the cold and hurting soul with warm and self-centered words saying, “You can’t go the person you’re talking about. Go to someone who will really understand you and who really needs to know.” 

And so, like a lamb being led to the slaughter, the gossiper falls under the alluring power of Lucifer’s minions and begins to cannibalize the flock. All the while, dehumanizing the target of conversation and adding horrific caricatures along the way. Whether through the seed of bitterness, emotional venting, or purposeful slander, gossip works tirelessly to sink its teeth into open hearts.

Gossip is a venomous imposter you’ve likely become all-too-familiar with in your local church. And it’s one we need to kill — quickly, and often.

Here’s how:

1. Tell the person you refuse to hear it. Seriously! Do their heart and your church a favor and shut it down. Walk away. Turn your head. Lose a friend. Guard purity. Protect Christ’s bride. When you entertain gossip under the “holy” banner of helping a fellow member of the flock, you become a party to the sin and enter the slaughter house alongside them. It can especially deadly when you don’t even know if what they’re saying is true. When deception and gossip get married, they birth something deadly that can only come from the “Father of Lies” (John 8:44).  God hates sowing discord, devising wicked plans, bearing false witness and lying, along with one who spreads strife among brothers (Proverbs 6:16-19). It’s always wise to take heed when wearing the label of what God hates.

2. Tell the person they need to go to the person they are gossiping about, or you will. Once again, you’re not winning any popularity contests for this one but you will be pleasing Christ and doing the right thing. Sound hard? It is. But since when is doing right thing guaranteed to be easy? In the end, all sin can be repented of, and sinners restored! Go with the promise of 1 John 1:9 over people pleasing. It may sting a bit, but like treating a wound the right way, exhorting others to engage in a Biblical process and proper healing measures can reduce the likelihood of a nasty scar.

3. Enact church discipline directly at the source(s). Gossip is serious sin. It wants to ruin your marriage, your witness, your family, your friendships, your future, and your church. Matthew 18:15-17 is one of the best ways to send the sin of gossip back to where it came from. When truth reigns, sin must run! Over and over again, God’s word is clear when it comes to gossip. Paul exhorted the church on numerous occasions to speak “only what is helpful for building others up” (Ephesians 4:29). Proverbs 16:28 reminds us that only perverse people stir up conflict and that “gossip separates close friends.” Church discipline doesn’t always mean a full blown member meeting, but it does mean going to the source of gossip and beginning to deal with it from there. If it’s already spreading like venom through the veins of the church, paralysis — or even death — is a serious possibility. Only the power of the Holy Spirit working through the obedience of believers can change the situation. Do whatever it takes to bring everything into the light.

For a resource that offers biblical and practical wisdom for dealing gossip, read Resisting Gossip: Winning the War of the Wagging Tongue.

6 High Commitments for Church Members

If you asked a large group of Christians what “church membership” is, you’d likely get an answer that sounds a bit like this: Church membership is being a part of a church. If you asked that same group what their role is as a member of Christ’s church you may hear: I am supposed to show up at church. 

While these answers are not entirely wrong, they resemble an iceberg in that the majority of its mass is still under the surface. We need to look deeper below that surface.

Church membership comes with many connotations. Some may think it’s like belonging to a country club with perks and privileges, others may view it as a ticket to heaven, and others think they are church members simply because they show up to special events and attend the Easter and Christmas services.

Scripture makes it clear that members of the church are set apart from the world; operating their lives in an entirely counter-cultural manner (2 Corinthians 6:14-18). Members are committed to Christ and each other (Romans 12:1-5), they submit to leaders and those leaders will answer to God one day (Hebrews 13:17), and that is serious business! Biblical church membership is not about celebrity pastors boasting big numbers and exposes any system in which shepherds do not know, or are not caring for sheep. Conversely, membership is not about armchair Christians punching their ticket to heaven because they have their name on the membership rolls. The picture of membership in the New Testament forces us to wrestle with this vital question: Is church membership a big deal, and if so, should I or my church be taking it more seriously? Sometimes, the idea of church membership is a mist to leaders, and therefore, it’s a fog to those they lead.

To help you better understand how to serve and lead the body of Christ, here are six commitments that we should embrace as church members. For the sake of this article, let’s call them “high” commitments because they signify the extraordinary purpose that God has for every one of His children. You could assuredly add to this list, but these six can help lay a foundation for clarity.

1. A High Commitment to GATHERING

If you could summarize the life of a church member in just one sentence you could say, we gather to worship and we scatter to witness! Those are essential for every member of the body of Christ. Gathering together with the assembly of believers is not merely suggested, it’s commanded (Hebrews 10:24-26). We stir one another up when we gather, we celebrate the ordinances when we gather, we become the manifold witness of God’s glory when we gather, and we are shaped by the preaching of God’s word when we gather. In the “old days” people took church attendance so seriously that even on vacation they would find a local church to assemble with and meet previously unknown “family” in Christ. These days, it seems people ditch church if the coffee isn’t up to their standards. Be different. Be highly committed to gathering with believers on the Lord’s Day.

2. A High Commitment to DISCIPLING

Making disciples is something that happens in many different forums. Some churches use a small group method to enable life-on-life discipleship, others use other organic methods. Churches may differ in programmatic methodology, but there is nothing sinful or wrong about “vehicles” for discipleship so long as they are in line with biblical theology regarding discipleship. Every church member is commanded to live out the Great Commission as witnesses for Christ (Matthew 28:16-20; Acts 1:8). We are to sharpen one another, confront one another, bear the burdens of one another, and even rebuke one another. A church member with a high commitment to discipling (both for them and others) is certain to see God use their proximity to others as a means of grace for growth!

3. A High Commitment to SERVING

Church members and “serving” should not be an oxymoron, but too often it is. Have you ever heard of the 80/20 rule? Some have wisely applied this to serving in the church as they estimate, “20% of church members do 80% of the work.” That may sting, or trigger a defense mechanism of personal excuses, but let’s get brutally honest for a moment: serving is not suggested, it’s commanded. And far too many of us don’t put a high commitment on this Christian privilege. You’ve been given a gift by the ultimate Giver! God the Holy Spirit Himself poured out a grace gift upon your life and knows that the best way to achieve your God-glorifying purpose on earth is to serve. 1 Peter 4:7-11 captures the picture of Christian service as Peter commanded the church to “employ” their gifts in serving one another. What’s more? Peter dared to command this to a group who was living through horrific persecution. When we meditate on that reality, we can surely put aside our slothful (first world) excuses and excitedly embrace the mantle of “doing the work of service” (Ephesians 4:11-16).

4. A High Commitment to GIVING

Jesus said our heart is where our treasure is (Matthew 6:21), and of course, He’s right. But when it comes to money, we could certainly conclude that nothing quite wrestles with our hearts like our wallets. In the world today, greed wins. Therefore, in the church today, giving can bear witness to our hearts that we are separate from the world. The lusts and fleeting pleasures of this world will seek to lay hold of the Christian’s resources, but the true Christian does not succumb to such temptations. Church members are living for an eternal kingdom. They are, if rich, eager to use money as a method for advancing ministry (1 Timothy 6:17-18). Church members are eager to share; pouring themselves out for others as a sign of Christian love (1 John 3:17). Paul paints the picture of generosity for all walks of life and income levels that should be common in the church today. He writes of poor believers who were eager to give — even if only a small amount — knowing that God would provide for their desire to give. 2 Corinthians chapters 8 and 9 give us foundational truths to motivate our commitment (and understanding) regarding generosity. For the church member, giving is never about the “amount,” it’s always about the heart. What does your commitment in this area indicate about your heart?

5. A High Commitment to PRESERVING

Preserving unity is an important commitment for every church member. We must guard against division of all kinds. This may come in the form of confronting sin and enabling church discipline and restoration (Matthew 18), exposing those who sow discord amongst the church because you hate what God hates (Proverbs 6:16-19), or confessing your own sin of gossip and divisive habits. Whatever the outworking of this high commitment, a church member who labors to preserve church unity is a mighty weapon in the hand of God. Unity is under constant assault in the church. Satan hates church unity. The world, under his spell, hates church unity. And false teachers most definitely hate church unity. A church united in truth stands strong against all threats. One final thought deserves mention here: relational unity should never replace or transcend essential doctrinal unity. In other words, no church or church member should ever sacrifice sound doctrine and promote unity that overlooks essential truths. We tolerate people who are seeking genuine answers in a spirit of love and patience, but that doesn’t mean tolerating false beliefs or dangerous doctrines in order to “preserve our unity.” That is false unity.

6. A High Commitment to REACHING

If we gather to worship and scatter to witness, surely reaching the lost must be a high commitment for every church member. There are 168 hours in any given week, and at least 1 of those hours is devoted to sitting under the preaching of God’s word. What we do with the other 167 hours can make a massive impact on eternity! What a joyous privilege. Whether going or sending, every member can participate in spreading the gospel at home and abroad. We are armed with the gospel and must live unashamed. It has power beyond anything this world has ever seen — the power to raise dead hearts and bring all who believe to life (Romans 1:16-17). The church will do many things “better” in heaven than we do on earth but there is one thing that we will not do better in heaven. In fact, we won’t get to “do” this in heaven. That is, reach the lost. 

While there is still time, let us live on mission in these ways as members of Christ’s body. Embracing these high commitments could not only change your life, but it could also change your church.

Can We Learn from Paul’s Conversion Assessment?

The conversion and commissioning of Paul the apostle is one that showcases God’s power to save and provides valuable lessons for new believers and their “next steps.”

As a Pharisee and persecutor of the church, Paul was zealous for his traditions and outpacing all of his contemporaries in knowledge (Gal. 1:14). No one was better suited for a life of Law than “Saul.” Then, God intervened and (literally) knocked him off his high horse. His life was transformed by the power of the gospel! Jesus Christ commissioned him to go from a persecutor of the church to a proclaimer of the truth. Paul’s journey of conversion is not just a “wow!” moment in which we see the transformative work of the gospel in the life of an apostle, it’s also a helpful model for us today. But how, if we aren’t apostles?

In particular, what happened after his conversion can show us a better way to serve and guide new believers. In days gone by, many simply walked an aisle, prayed a prayer, and were sent on their merry way with a ticket to heaven. After a generation of leaning primarily on altar calls to affirm salvation, it’s obvious that we have holes in our evangelical armor. To say that many churches experienced 30 years of biblically illiterate professing evangelicals and numerous false converts would be putting it lightly. If bloated member rolls and empty seats taught us one thing, it’s this: regenerate church membership matters. If regenerate membership matters, then the next steps for the seemingly converted matter. After a profession of faith, the journey is just getting started. It starts with follow up to assess the profession of faith, baptism to testify of faith, and a life marked by transformative faith.

When looking for a better way to serve new believers than failed methods from the past, Paul’s conversion and follow up process are a good place to start.

Sin is Mourned and Christ Becomes Master

The grace of God did not become a license that Paul (Saul) used to sin, it became the mechanism through which he mourned his sin and surrendered to Christ. When Jesus showed up, Paul was brought low. After being blinded he didn’t eat or drink for three days (Acts 9:9). The mighty and zealous crusader against the church had to be helped along to Damascus like an invalid (Acts 9:8). This picture of Paul is exactly what we are when we come face to face with our sin and Christ as Savior and Lord. Our way doesn’t work! His way does! Our sin is death! His commands are life! His love transforms us and suddenly Jesus becomes the Master and we joyfully submit. This is what happened to Paul and still happens to everyone who truly believer today. Understanding that benchmark of conversion is critical for new believers.

Be Baptized and Proclaim Christ

Right after Paul (Saul) comes face to face with the reality of Christ (Acts 9:4-6) and is chosen as an instrument to bear Christ’s name to Gentiles and Jews (9:15), he is baptized (9:18) and immediately began “to proclaim Jesus in the synagogues, saying, ‘He is the Son of God’” (9:20). People were amazed (9:21) because he went from being a persecutor of the church to a proclaimer of the truth! Paul’s conversion models something that new believers should always be encouraged to do: Be baptized in obedience and proclaim what Christ has done and who He is.

Be Open to Conversion Assessment

Conversion “diagnostics” can be helpful for those who profess Christ. Like a doctor identifying evidence to confirm a diagnosis, converts should be able to convey what a difference Christ has made in their way of thinking and living. There’s no need for a mandated theological exam with big words (though that’s not a negative thing), but a change in desires and actions should be evident. This new way of thinking should include a love for Jesus and a hatred for sin. Paul experienced the same thing. He was vetted, confirmed, and tested. People were making sure the guy who was ravaging churches was really saved! It was obvious once they assessed him. After staying with Peter for 15 days he would no doubt have been affirmed as a true convert. Then, he visited the apostles and “submitted to them the gospel” that he was preaching and they added nothing to what he was preaching (Galatians 2:1-2, 6). Diagnosing conversions should be handled with sensitivity and care with the goal being to help ensure a professing believer has a genuine assurance of faith.

Love Accountability

In the church today, you can’t put a price on accountability. For Paul, Barnabas was right by his side to take him to see the apostles when they were too scared to believe that the “persecutor” was now a preacher. Acts 9:26-28 records a scene in which Barnabas knew Paul’s story, came alongside him and brought him personally to the other apostles. Acts 9, Galatians 1, and 2 all paint a picture of Paul’s accountability to others. He didn’t loathe their involvement in his conversion follow up — he understood it. He was meeting disciples in various regions, preaching faithfully, partnering with the apostles, and eventually given the “right hand of fellowship” (Gal. 2:9). Too many Christians make professions of faith only to slip into the back of the crowd and turn into little more than a number because the church challenges them to be accountable. They don’t get connected and nobody gets connected with them. Accountability helps new believers get rooted in faith and community.

Final Thoughts

There is a lot that churches can learn from the conversion and commissioning of Paul. In a day and age where some will complain that due process for new believers is legalistic and cumbersome, we do well to look at how vetted Paul was and how that energized both his ministry and the churches he served. There is something special about trust that is built between believers. Even the man with a personal commission from Jesus and the privilege of writing half the New Testament was proven to be a faithful follower of Christ.

3 Takeaways from India 2019

From January 25th – February 3rd I and a brother from our church embarked on a 34-hour journey deep into the heart of India. While it’s not necessary to share our exact location, I can share that we were in the southern half of India. Our objective on this trip was not to convert Hindus, but rather, to strengthen and encourage local pastors who are facing monumental challenges in ministry.

The trip was prompted by a request from our local partner and was spurred on by a zeal to see pastors trained and supported in a region with little opportunities for such training.

Over the course of nine days, we came to learn about local threats to the gospel directly from national pastors and leaders and spent time discussing strategies for the years ahead. We also provided training seminars during the day and expositional sermons at night. In total, I had the privilege of preaching and teaching about a dozen times (sometimes cramming two sermons into 90 straight minutes of preaching at the request of our hosts). We ministered everywhere from a small village church to a crowd of 700+ pastors from all around southern India.

It’s impossible to put into words all the incredible experiences that we had on the trip but I’d be doing my dear brothers from India a great disservice if I didn’t at least boil things down to a few key takeaways. I’m not saying I have the solutions to the challenges contained in some of these takeaways, but it still seemed noteworthy to point them out.

The Prosperity Gospel is the #1 Issue The Global Church is Facing Within Its Own Ranks
One afternoon we sat with approximately 15 pastors for a time of fellowship and discussion. What I came to learn was shocking. Previously, I understood that the prosperity gospel was somewhat of an issue in India. After all, 15 years ago I was in Mumbai for a massive crusade with the “Hinn family entourage” and millions of people attended our crusades where we promised health, wealth, healing, and salvation to the desperate crowd. But this trip was different. As the pastors shared their hearts, I was told that the entire region is seeing a wave of compromise within the church. One pastor confessed that he has “started preaching prosperity theology” because people will leave his church if he doesn’t. Another pastor shared that even in areas where the church appears to be thriving, those churches are not healthy — they preach the prosperity gospel. As men opened up in honesty, the clarion call within the room was that faithfulness was still our mandate.

While religions outside of Christianity (like Hinduism, Islam, and Buddhism) still result in great persecution against Christians, nothing seems to be assaulting the church from within like the prosperity gospel and other branches of charismatic extremism.

When you analyze the global church on a macro level; adding in stats from South America, Africa, and even China (yes, China!), the prosperity gospel (and associated movements) is the #1 issue we’re facing. Sound doctrine is in short supply. There is a famine in our land.

Our Brothers and Sisters Are Hungry for More Access to Theological Training
Over and over again the pastors and leaders asked, can you please help us get more resources in our own language and help us access training for ministry? Out of the approximately 1000 pastors I came across, very few had received any formal theological training though they were desperate for it. It’s not as though they could apply for financial aid and simply go to seminary. In the smaller group of pastors that I interacted with, 6 had been to seminary, 5 had finished. Of those 5, at least 3 had to leave the country to acquire their training. While I understand that these numbers cannot accurately represent the entire global picture, they do serve as a wake-up call for the need to train and deploy leaders internationally. People are hungry for theological training so they can be more effective in local ministry.

At one point a pastor shared with me that India has its very own version of “Benny Hinn” and “Joel Osteen.” These local national imitators put on the same ruse that false teachers do in America. I immediately thought, where are the local national theologians who can push back on this threat? Why is it that there are influential false teachers assaulting the church but these local pastors are hard-pressed to find a commentary set or apologetics resource in their own language in order to study and answer the questions of their congregation? I was struck with the conviction that we must be intentional about training nationals to be warriors in their own nation. Furthermore, it seems there are still many places around the world that are not getting the translation support they need to contend for the faith.

How amazing would it be to see countries explode with their own seminaries and their own theologians so that more locals can move more quickly into training opportunities and be unleashed on the local church when ready? It’s hard enough to minister in places around the world where persecution is intense. Without access to theological resources, many leaders are like unarmed soldiers in the middle of a war zone. If we can help them get started, we must.

Jesus is Building His Church and the Gates of Hades Cannot Prevail Against It
Even in the darkest corners of the earth, Christ’s light cannot be stopped. India is no exception. One church we visited was located in a village that had been completely Hindu one generation prior. All efforts to evangelize people there had borne no fruit. Then, a family planted a church of 4 people in the village and tried once more. The result? An explosion of conversions and some 80 members now growing in their faith. The locals have threatened them and tried to eradicate their church, but Christ continues to increase their number. One pastor shared how his church started in his living room, then spilled outside his home, only to lead them to erect a church building to meet the growing need for space. Now, 400 members gather each week to hear the preaching of the word, share a meal, and sing for the glory of God together. Without question, in the midst of a spiritual battle between darkness and light, our unstoppable conquering King is building His church.

As generation after generation seeks to be faithful to the Great Commission, God will use them to see great things unfold. It’s easy to get lost in the noise that can is American evangelicalism. Personally, being reminded of what our family in Christ is facing around the world puts many things into perspective. Suddenly, stone throwing over social justice and arguing over politics seems less important. It’s amazing what nine days, less Wi-Fi, and some good old-fashioned Indian food will do. Change of pace and change of place really do equal a change in perspective.

Here’s to more living out the Commission we’ve been called to. Life is short. Let’s stay busy.

“And Jesus came up and spoke to them, saying, “All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth. Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age” (Matthew 28:18-20)

 

Is the Old Testament Law Useful Today?

Few genres of Scripture cause more confusion in the church today than the Law. Perhaps one could reasonably argue that the book of Revelation outdoes the Law in crossing the Christian’s eyes, but beyond that, there isn’t much debate here. We’re left asking, “What is the role of the Old Testament Law in the life of the Church?” or “How in the world do we interpret passages from books like Deuteronomy or Leviticus?”

Consistent interpretive wisdom on this topic is in short supply. For example, read the following laws and notice the significant conundrum that arises if we try to apply them directly to our life in 2019:

  • A man who has lost his hair and is bald is clean (Leviticus 13:40)
  • Do not wear clothing woven of two kinds of material (Leviticus 19:19)
  • Do not eat pigs or touch their carcasses (Deuteronomy 14:8)
  • Stand up in the presence of the aged (Leviticus 19:32)
  • No tattoos allowed (Leviticus 19:28)
  • Lethal force is acceptable at night; not in the daytime (Exodus 22:2-3)

Unarmed with faithful methods of interpretation we’re left playing an unfortunate game of hermeneutical roulette. If we take several of these at face value, we’re in trouble. Apparently if you’ve ever eaten a Honey Baked Ham, worn a shirt with cotton and polyester, tattooed your favorite Bible verse or sports team on your bicep, or failed to stand next to grandmas chair all Christmas evening, you’ve sinned against God! But if you’re bald, you’re good. Based on that conclusion, you might say the role of the OT Law in the life of the Church today is to confuse us! But that’s not true.

Certain principles help us see the Law for what it is, and what it’s not. A resource will be recommended at the conclusion of this post for further study. To get you started, here are some basic principles that can help in a variety of ways including, protecting you from false teachers who twist the Old Testament, and helping with the difficulty of applying your morning reading from Exodus:

  1. The Law teaches us about God’s covenant with Israel

Israel receives the Law in the context of God’s covenant with them­­—usually called the “Mosaic Covenant.” He essentially says, “If you obey me and keep my commands, I will bless you.” This covenant was conditional, limited to Israel, and not something you or I should apply directly to ourselves today. It had a purpose.

  1. The Law teaches us about God’s nature—especially His holiness

Sometimes we miss one of the most important purposes of the Law in the Church today when we mistakenly attempt to read ourselves into aspects of the Old Testament Law. Often, the Law serves to point to a simple truth: God is holy and expects His people to be set apart. This timeless truth carries to the New Testament when Peter calls the Church to obedience and holiness under the New Covenant in Christ (1 Peter 1:14-16).

  1. The Law teaches us about man’s nature—especially his depravity

If you think humanity is intrinsically good, the Law can help shed light here. For example, Israel cycled through decades of crying out to God, receiving help from God, complaining again to God, sinning when they grew impatient with God, then crying out to God when their sin got them in trouble with God. Does this need further explanation? Just read 1 Corinthians 10. We aren’t literal “Israel” in the Church today, but we sure act like Israel don’t we? We need divine intervention in our lives. Thank God for Christ.

  1. The Law teaches us to appreciate what Christ has accomplished

Have you ever driven by someone renovating a terribly kept yard on your way home to your own freshly manicured lawn? Imagine yourself driving by for a moment. Picture the type of long grass that clogs a lawnmower, weeds that break through the concrete and break your back, mold growing up the siding, and bushes so overgrown you’d sooner sell the house than deal with them. When we look at Israel underthe Law compared to our lives inChrist, a deep appreciation develops; causing us to run into the arms of Christ like the undeserving leper crying, “Jesus, thank you.”

  1. The Law teaches us principles that can be applied today

Some schools of interpretive thought ignore the Law altogether—presuming it to be useless in light of Church-Age literature. This is a slippery slope—no actually, a dangerous cliff. Jesus Himself used the Law in many teaching moments, including with the Rich Young Ruler (Matt. 19:18-21). Furthermore, He escalates certain Laws like adultery from being committed through sinful actions to being committed through sinful thoughts (Matt. 5:27-28). Paul himself said, “All Scripture is God-breathed and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness; that the man of God may be adequate, equipped for every good work (2 Timothy 3:16-17). Even though we are not under the Law, it still proves useful in teaching us today.

Much more can be said on this topic but these principles can help you foster an ongoing appreciation for the role of the Old Testament Law in the Church today.

For further study, the following resource is excellent for lay ministers to seminary students:

Scott Duvall and J. Daniel Hays, Grasping God’s Word: A Hands-On to Reading, Interpreting, and Applying the Bible (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2012).

Deep Worship or Shallow Ritual?

Throughout the prophetic books in the Old Testament, we see a pattern in which Israel continuously disobeys the commands God has given to them, is threatened with divine judgment, then repents and cycles into the same pattern again and again. God then uses His prophets to warn His people, and makes promises of future restoration despite their obstinate ways.

One particularly dangerous pattern that Israel falls into is allowing their religious worship practices that were meant to deepen their relationship with God to become shallow routines. While sacrifices, fasting, and following the Law were all good things that contributed to their thriving in relationship with God and pleasing Him, these things also worked against them. How so? When the heart behind their actions grew cold. They were an idolatrous people yet they fasted and made sacrifices. Despite their external efforts, God saw the internal motives. In Micah 6:7-8, the prophet declared the word of the Lord for Israel to love their God, and love others. God had become unimpressed with their religious routines because He saw through to their hearts:

Does the Lord take delight in thousands of rams,
In ten thousand rivers of oil?
Shall I present my firstborn for my rebellious acts,
The fruit of my body for the sin of my soul?
He has told you, O man, what is good;
And what does the Lord require of you
But to do justice, to love kindness,
And to walk humbly with your God?

As those now living in the Church Age, we have New Testament prescriptions for worship that can contribute to our joy in relationship with God. The overflow of our devotion to God certainly leads to at least several worship practices that can be especially helpful for our spiritual growth and vitality. That is, when our motives center around devotion to God. As J. Scott Duvall and J. Daniel Hays remind us in their book, Grasping God’s Word, “God desires relationship over ritual. Rituals have validity only in that they assist in developing the relationship.”

We are not under the Old Covenant, and I don’t believe we are the nation of Israel, but are there certain things in the New Testament church that we do as a routine or ritual to nurture our relationship with God that if not motivated by love for God can mislead us into false spirituality?

It’s early in 2019, and you’ve likely hit the ground running with resolutions for a better year! Spiritual disciplines often make everybody’s list and that’s a good thing. Still, take some time and review these six worship practices and ask yourself, Am I motivated by a deeper relationship with Christ or something else?

Church Attendance: Going to gather with other believers can be one of the best ways to grow. It’s certainly where sound doctrine is proclaimed, sheep are drawn to Christ, saints are edified, corporate worship explodes, spiritual gifts used, missional efforts funded and mobilized, and more. But church attendance, while a commendable goal, can quickly become an idol erected that symbolized our salvation. In other words, we begin to think we’re saved because we go to church. Or, that going to church in 2019 is going to make us a Christian. If church attendance is not motivated by a deep desire to grow closer to Christ and His people through worship and the word, you may be wading in a shallow pool of ritualism.

Daily Bible Reading: Reading plans and daily quiet times in the word can be a tremendous blessing to our relationship with Christ. But they can quickly become checklists that we “X” off so we can get to the real agenda like email, social media, texting, and the morning rush. Unless we check our hearts and renew our motives with new morning mercies, daily Bible reading can become a little golden calf that gives us false assurance.

Serving or Volunteerism: As backwards as it may seem, serving and volunteerism can go from being a healthy habit of Christian love, to an idolatrous act meant to fill us with religious pride. God doesn’t want our hands in service without our hearts of surrender. Many times we lose the motive of why we serve and it becomes a badge of honor we wear to show others, “Look! I am spiritual.” The problem is, God is not impressed, even if others are.

Giving: Another practice that rides on the coattails of serving is giving. This can be a wonderful way to express gratitude to God. It can also be a means by which people “tip” God to satisfy Him; assuming they’re in His good graces because they paid for it. Giving, as a habit of Christian generosity is a beautiful way to participate in Christ’s work. The Macedonian churches (like Philippi, Thessalonica, and Berea) embodied the kind of eagerness to meet needs that we should all have (2 Corinthians 8:1). So when does giving go from pleasing God to problematic? When we begin to lose sight of “why” we give. We don’t give money to cross it off our checklist, get a tax write-off, or get our name on a plaque. We give out of a joyful and generous heart because we’re overflowing with love for God.

The Lord’s Table (Communion): There is a wide range of methodologies within the church when it comes to communion. I don’t necessarily agree with all of them, but others may not agree with our church’s either. One thing is certain, a flippant run through communion without genuine reflection on the blood of Christ and the sacrifice He made on our behalf is the quintessential mark of shallow ritualism at the Lord’s Table. Along with flippancy, one can engage in the deepest of liturgies and remain in a nothing but a shallow pool of ritualism. Robes can be worn, special songs sung, and the finest tableware shimmering on the altar. Without hearts burning with somber affection for the One who shed His blood on Calvary, we’re merely snacking on crackers and drinking Welch’s.

Fasting: Quite a few options are made available to the Christian who wants to fast programmatically these days. You can do an Esther fast, a Daniel fast, a Small Group fast, a Church-wide fast, a Women’s fast and many other types. Are these wrong? Sinful? No. But doing them for the wrong reasons could be. Fasting out of peer-pressure, pride, or because you want to lose weight are all tell-tale signs that true devotion to God through fasting is being replaced by superficial idolatry. Check your motives, keep it a secret, and seek the Lord the way the Bible instructs.

So there you have it! Enjoy resolutions, build in routines, see worshipful practices as a prescribed order for your own spiritual growth. But never forget, these are not the end. They are merely means to The End – that is, Christ.

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.”

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.” 

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