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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

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.

4 Ways Pastors Can Cultivate Discernment in Their Church

Pastoral ministry is a serious work that requires work. When it comes to a pastor’s mandate to proclaim the truth and protect God’s people from error, The task is nothing short of a divine burden.Pastoral ministry can be described as a daily spiritual battle for souls that never seems to end. There are times when it can feel like a constant warzone across the landscape of the Christian world with causalities in the pulpit and in the pew. – and it probably is.

One of the ways to reduce spiritual casualties is equipping church members to be discerning. With false teachers using blending so much truth into their poisonous errors, people need faithful leaders to consistently provide objective truth they can depend on. Charles Spurgeon said it perfectly when he explained, “Discernment is not a matter of simply telling the difference between right and wrong; rather it is telling the difference between right and almost right.”

There are many ways that pastors can cultivate discernment in their church. I’ve offered 4 here that can help you get started in the right direction:

  1. Make a Big Deal About Sound Doctrine

A pastor who wants to cultivate theological discernment within the church needs to first be excited about teaching sound doctrine himself! A congregation that is fed a steady diet of sound doctrine is going to be growing like a well-rounded, balanced body. Like resistance to muscles in the weight room, solid doctrinal teaching breaks down old ways of carnal thinking and builds up the mind; bringing a believer to maturity. A pastor shouldn’t view doctrine as an inconvenience, but rather, as essential to the health of the church. Theological discernment can be cultivated not by merely telling the church to be discerning but by serving them a feast of sound doctrine that makes them discerning. Making a big deal about sound doctrine will be rooted in making much about Christ. A pastor ought to teach straight out of the Bible on Christology, Pneumatology, and other “ologies” that help people have a proper view of self and a high view of God. Sound doctrine is kryptonite to biblical illiteracy and protects people from falling prey to false teaching.

  1. Make the “Why” Clear

Pastors can be guilty of assuming people know the reason for everything they’re teaching. In order to cultivate discernment in a church, people have to know why any of it matters. A congregation’s lack of understanding is usually at the root of their indifference to discernment. Furthermore, the word “discernment” sparks thoughts of sinister behavior, deception, and conflict. Those are not things the average church member is eager to face. Most of them are just trying to make it through another day at work without any conflict. A pastor’s passionate sermon may leave them asking, “Why is the pastor on this bandwagon about doctrine and discernment?” or “Did our pastor just turn into one of those guys looking for a heretic around every corner?” Look to biblical examples of faithful men who explained the “why” along with instructions to be discerning and defend the faith. Paul did this in his farewell to the elders at Ephesus (Acts 20:17-38), and when he had to teach the Corinthians concerning their use of spiritual gifts and correct a few things in the process (1 Corinthians 12:1-14:40). Jude did this when he wanted to write about the common faith he shared with his readers, but instead, had to deal with false teaching and apostasy (Jude 3). Train your leaders, and your church on why doctrine and defending the faith matters.

  1. Make Sure You Model It

People are quite often a reflection of their leadership. Chances are, if it matters to you, it will eventually matter to them. Pastors who are absent-minded when it comes to theological discernment will often produce a flock who is as well. Modeling discernment is showing people how you got to your conclusions, and more importantly, what the bible says on the issue. If you’re praying for a culture of theological discernment and trying to take steps towards equipping your church to be theologically discerning, make sure you are practicing what you preach. Your example will be a powerful tool in God’s hands.

  1. Make Resources Available to Your People (God’s People)

There is arguably nothing worse than majoring on the problem without offering a solution. Yes, a sermon will certainly do the job and the Bible is all we need to show people the answers they seek. Still, excellent resources are available to engage people’s minds and equip them in specific ways. Online blogs and popular books are bombarding your people each day. If you let the latest Christian marketing fads guide their discernment, you’ll get the results – and they probably won’t always be on point. Give them a fighting chance by resourcing them with trusted material. As the old saying applies: Give a man a fish, he’ll eat for a day. Teach a man to fish, he’ll feed himself for the rest of his life. A false teacher, a “new gospel,” and the winds of culture are no match for a church who is equipped to know the truth and discern the truth for themselves.

One of the most loving things that a pastor can do for his church is to equip them to be theologically discerning believers at a time when many are falling prey to divergent doctrines.

Can You Define Deception?

The church’s greatest threat has never been from the outside, but rather, from deception within.

The Bible is clear. Satan doesn’t show up at the foot of your bed with red horns and a pitch-fork claiming, “Here I am to distract and deceive you!” Neither do his false prophets. They are disguised in light; seeming to be workers of righteousness (2 Corinthians 11:13-15).

Our adversary’s deceptive strategy is to infiltrate our ranks. Like a Trojan horse entering through the city gates, darkness often hides in plain sight. Satan doesn’t fight fair and false teachers take no prisoners.

During the 1930’s and 40’s, millions of Jews were murdered as a result of the Holocaust. Museums like the Yad Vashemin Jerusalem have preserved the horrific evidence of how deceptionplayed a crucial role in the Nazi plans. The Germans used propaganda to appear as though they were caring for Jews, but millions were being brutally slaughtered. Nazi soldiers were trained to deceive Jews until their death. In one of the most inhumane acts in world history, countless Jews were told that the concentration camps they were being taken to were communities of safety and rest. Some were shown pictures of a beautiful paradise only to arrive at the sterile barracks confused. At the camp named Auschwitz, Jews worked to unknowingly lay the foundation for the very buildings that would be their own “death factories.”

Like the ruthless deception and false propaganda used by the Nazi’s to execute their evil plan, false teachers and the kingdom of darkness use lies to attempt to bring down the church and destroy the kingdom of God. Discernment is crucial to preventing spiritual casualties.

Can you say with absolutely certainty that you are not being deceived? Do you know if the church you’re a part of is a biblical church? How do you know that the ministry you follow is playing for the right team? How has your pastor’s pulpit ministry increased your prowess for studying your Bible? Are you confident in saying that you know when something is biblically true, or fatally false? Many Christians are sitting in churches and following ministries that are anything but biblical – yet they aren’t sure what the signs are.

To help you navigate the challenges we’re facing in the body of Christ today, here are 5 ways to define deception:

  1. The Gospel is Mishandled

One of the keys to defining deception within the church is how the Gospel is treated. If God is always in a good mood, sin is “too intense” for the pulpit, and the cross is a just revelation of our value, things are heading in the wrong direction. If sermons are preached so broadly that people aren’t told Jesus is the only way can to be saved (John 14:6), there is a problem. The Gospel is not inconvenient, it’s essential. A church (and its pastor) must be willing to offend people if it means pleasing God. Yes, there is the Good News! But, it’s only Good News because there was some bad news.

The Gospel is also mishandled when certain people dogmatically assert that without “signs and wonders” the Gospel has no power. This faulty view is common in Word of Faith theology and flies in the face of Romans 1:16 where Paul declares, “For I am not ashamed of the Gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes…” The Gospel is not powerful because it accompanies signs and wonders. The Gospel is powerful because God authored the transformation of dead sinners into living saints.

  1. My Experience Informs My Truth

There is a massive wave of experience-driven theology sweeping over the church. If you find that your church or your favorite ministry uses “expert eye-witnesses” claims in order to propagate things that are contradictory to the Bible, the writing could be on the wall. As Christians, it’s great to have moments of awe in light of what God is doing in the church. But if those moments are built on the mystical experiences of someone like Jesus Culture’s Kim Walker-Smith claiming that Jesus appeared in a vision and behaved like “Stretch Armstrong,” or Bethel Church’s Seth Dahl (Redding, CA) explaining how Jesus appeared to him in a vision to ask him (yes, Seth) for forgiveness, things have stretched into dangerous territory.

Right now our culture is waging war on absolute truth by using subjective experience. People can identify as whatever gender they “feel like” they are, women can kill babies because they “feel like” it’s ok, and gay-marriage is ok in more churches than ever because pastors “feel like” we should just love people and not “judge.”

If our church or our pastor is building on the foundation of experience to define the truth, is that much different than the world? True Christians must be committed to trusting the Word of God as the authoritative and sufficient filter through which every experiences must pass through.

  1. You and I are the Same as Jesus

One of the best ways to define deception in a church or teaching, is to analyze what they do with the doctrine of Christ. When pastors with a global platform like Bill Johnson claim that Jesus did His miracles as a just a man in right relationship to God and not as God, that’s heresy. This is a historical heresy with a modern face. It is the springboard for today’s mystical-miracle movement which claims that if Jesus was just a man anointed by God when He was on earth, you can be just like Him too! If a teaching diminishes Christ in order to elevate man – that’s the mark of deception. Satan has always been a master of twisting Scripture to undermine God and shipwreck people’s faith. From the beginning the serpent has been whispering, Did God really say…? You surely shall not die!(Genesis 3:1-4)

  1. The Abundant Life Is Now

A church is off course if John 10:10 means that the “abundant life” of heaven guarantees health, wealth and happiness on earth. The idea that you should be experiencing job promotions, perfect medical reports, and an overflow of financial provision throws out James 1:2, 2 Timothy 3:12, and Luke 18:29 (at the very least). If your pastor gears his messages towards “hope” that is realized through material possessions and perfect relationships on earth – he’s not a pastor; he’s an imposter.

Jesus didn’t promise that life would be easy on earth for those who are His true disciples. An over-realized atonement that guarantees riches and health on earth has missed the entire point of trials, suffering, sovereignty and sanctification.

  1. Faith Is a Force You Can Unleash

Billionaire prosperity preacher Kenneth Copeland has built an empire on the false teaching that “faith is a force.” In other words, you can make things happen if you believe. If your pastor twists passages about confession of faith in Christ (Romans 10:9) to mean that confession is also the way to land a Bentley on your driveway – run to the nearest Biblical church. When a church has a culture of “making it happen with your mouth,” it is time to move on.

This theology defines deception by teaching that God is like a magic genie – you get what you want by rubbing Him right. Positive confessions are repeated in cult-like unison as crowds say, “I am promoted!”, “I am healed!” or “I am blessed!” They believe that faith does not lead one to merely confess their sin and turn to Christ in repentance but that faith is a force you can use to control all outcomes.

It is a War on Truth

All of the deception within the church can be disheartening. People are being used and spiritually abused. But there is hope.

First, we’ve been forewarned that false teachers would “secretly introduce” destructive heresies, and exploit people in their greed (2 Peter 2:1-3). We need not be surprised. We also know that even in the midst of spiritual warfare, victory has been won by Jesus Christ! Discerning Christians have no need to cower in fear if they are clad in the armor of God (Ephesians 6:11-18). The believer equipped with the Word of God has everything needed to stand firm against enemy tactics. God has given us the ability to define deception and enjoy the security of walking in truth.

Take courage, Christian. Christ promised to build His church (Matthew 16:18). Make sure you’re a part of a local body where He is actually building.


If you need help discerning what is true and what is false, order your copy of Defining Deception today!

Five Things Only the Local Church Can Do

There is nothing on earth like the local Christian church. Hundreds of conferences offer life-changing experiences for several days but can’t come close to the life-long impact of a local church. Evangelistic crusades may draw tens of thousands to hear the gospel, but the crusade team can’t possibly facilitate the spiritual growth of those converts the way the local church can. When it comes down to it, Christ loves His bride, and there is no substitute that can satisfy the needs of His growing body like the local church. If you’re trying to build a local church community, take a look at church management software Instructions Here, to see how it could help.

Providing that a group of believers gather under biblically qualified leadership, with a focus on biblical teaching, prayer, worship, evangelism and edifying fellowship, the church will live up to its potential in the way that God intends. Of course, in a fallen world there will be turbulent times along the way, but together, Christians who hold in high regard the Body of Christ as He builds it will experience a level of joy that is only found within the local church.

In this article, I will consider five unique blessings that only the local church gets to experience. Each of these makes the local church unlike any other institution on earth.

1) The Manifold Wisdom of God

Nothing glorifies God like the local church! His wisdom is shown through Christ’s unfathomable riches, and the world looks on as His light outshines darkness. Preaching showcases the manifold wisdom of God. The divine revelation now revealed through the gospel showcases the manifold wisdom of God (Ephesians 3:8-10). Heaven looks on, and all of hell trembles as Christ is declared the wisdom of God personified (1 Corinthians 1:24).

People will turn to many sources for wisdom, but nothing will bring the lasting peace that the wisdom of God will bring.

God chose the church to showcase His wisdom. What greater privilege can there be for a Christian to take part in?

2) The Methods of Evangelism

Is there a greater blessing than to see the lost sheep called home to the Great Shepherd? The local church is right at the center of this process! As Jesus gathers His flock from every tongue, tribe, and nation, He uses the preaching of good news to accomplish the work. As Paul declared the divine process that brings about salvation to the hearer he wrote:

For the Scripture says, “Whoever believes in Him will not be disappointed.” For there is no distinction between Jew and Greek; for the same Lord is Lord of all, abounding in riches for all who call on Him; for “Whoever will call on the name of the Lord will be saved.” How then will they call on Him in whom they have not believed? How will they believe in Him whom they have not heard? And how will they hear without a preacher? How will they preach unless they are sent? Just as it is written, “How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news of good things!” (Romans 10:11-15).

Gospel power goes out from the local church in more ways than we may realize. From a congregation that lives their faith while the world looks on, to a child who grows up to become a missionary or worldwide evangelist. They are all trained up, sent out, and supported by the local church.

Preaching is one of the primary methods through which the local church can spread the gospel it is not the only method.

Relational evangelism can spark gospel conversations that never even involve a pulpit but lead people to repentance. I’ll never forget how the Lord used a personal friendship sparked in the gym one day, to lead to an open door for evangelism. Now over ten years later, my friend has married a fellow believer and is the proud father of three children. What happened? A relationship provided the context for the gospel to be shared. The result was a regenerate life changed by the power of the gospel! It doesn’t always happen that way, but relationships are one of the most powerful ways that evangelism is accomplished.

Whether in the gym, at the park, on the court, in the store, or on the mission field, the life-saving power of the gospel is entrusted to the local church. What else on earth can make that claim?

3) The Making of Disciples

When an unregenerate heart turns to Christ, He entrusts the church with a most sacred task – to make them a disciple (Matthew 28:16-20).

In the local church, converts aren’t left to fend for themselves, leaders are trained so more converts can be discipled, marriages are mentored through the ups and downs of life, and sanctification is in overdrive as the church worships with undying affection for Christ!

The privilege (and mandate) of making disciples is something often overlooked because it takes work. Laziness is no excuse for being unwilling to enter the grueling task of disciple-making. Life is messy, and ministry is too. If we aren’t willing to roll up our sleeves, put our work boots on, and dig into discipleship, we have to ask ourselves if we have lost sight of what our true purpose is.

In his book Discipling, Mark Dever writes,

The local church – this, Father-designed, Jesus-authorized, and Spirit-gifted body – is far better equipped to undertake the work of discipling believers than simply you and your one friend. Jesus does not promise that you and your one friend will defeat the gates of hell. He promised that the church will do this.

We must maintain a culture of disciple-making because if we don’t, no one else will. Only the church is given this unique task.

4) The Ministry of Saints

Talents abound in the world today, but spiritual gifts are a whole different matter. Parents pay thousands of dollars to have their son or daughter receive specialized training to become an elite performer, but no amount of money or training regimen can land you a spiritual gift.

The Holy Spirit distributes spiritual gifts, and the church and believers are the benefactors. What grace that He would pour out such gifts for the body to be built up in Christ. In our serving and our speaking, we are strengthening one another and glorifying our Creator (1 Peter 4:7-11). How can we not take full advantage of this great blessing?

In addition to the privilege of using our spiritual gifts, we are also given a clear structure for how to operate with our gifts. The “common good” that the gifts achieve (1 Corinthians 12:7) provide us with spiritual protection, teaching, equipping, and meet physical needs.

Ministries explode within the local church because saints put their gifts to work. Qualified elders are appointed (1 Timothy 3:1-7), older women teach the younger (Titus 2:3-5), widows and orphans are cared for (James 1:27), mercy is shown, sinners are exhorted, and so much more. Much is achieved for the edification of saints because obedient believers employ their gifts for ministry.

When onlookers see the Body of Christ functioning in unity, God is glorified.

5) The Memories Shared

In the Old Testament, God told Joshua and the people of Israel to create “Memorial Stones” to showcase all His wondrous works (Joshua 4:1-7). In 2017, our memorial stones may take on the form of Facebook albums, Instagram galleries, or a church highlight a video but the principle remains the same. Our stories of God’s goodness, faithfulness, and mighty works are shared through and with the church.

There is no denying that the relationships we form in serving Christ are some of the most powerful bonds that can be formed in this life. The love that Paul shared with the churches he started was rooted in his devotion to Christ. A church that serves, sings, and even suffers together will more often than not, grow old together, or plant more churches together!

Generations of Christians will spend eternity worshipping Christ in celebration of all that He did in them and through them.

Over the course of a lifetime, Christians will experience a plethora of emotions within the life of the church. There may be joy, pain, loss, and hurt. All in all, it takes commitment to Christ to remain devoted to His bride through it all.

If Christians will continually turn back to the Scriptures and renew their love for the church, they will enjoy the blessings and privileges that it alone can provide.


Originally posted on www.servantsofgrace.org on February 21, 2017.