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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. The local church does their deed by preaching the word of the lord to a congregation, as well as collecting offerings and giving back to what Jesus and God gave them. Find out more through sites like https://get.tithe.ly/blog/106-bible-scriptures-about-giving regarding how the concept of giving makes an impact of your local church and Christianity. 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.

Pastors and Politics: The Trump Card

We’re cruising into the first year of Trump in the White House. A bitter divide has unquestionably developed and many Christians have found themselves in middle of the mayhem. You’d be hard-pressed to find a single pastor who hasn’t been influenced, pressured, or scolded on both sides of the table. It’s been that way since Trump’s campaign began.

As a pastor observing the political climate that can saturate a church, it’s been a year of incredible growth, and challenges. I’ll never forget the Sunday that a congregant came right up to me and said, “Why doesn’t he [the teaching-pastor] man up and side with Trump from the pulpit? That Hillary was from the Devil! God’s man is in the White House.” His wife pleaded with him to let it go, but to no avail.

In another confrontation, a congregant raged, “Trump is train-wreck! Christians who voted for him are poorly mistaken.”

Few things can pacify political charged Christians. Only one thing has sustained us.

Outside of our local church, the airwaves rang out from each side while the world peered on from the bleachers. Like two heavyweights trying to land the knockout blow, back and forth the haymakers swung.

One pastor declared, “We are going to see another great spiritual awakening.” Another affirmed, “The Lord’s hand is upon this man, even though the world does not realize it and cannot realize it due to their spiritual blindness.” Others weren’t so convinced. “How anyone sees Trump as the savior of the evangelicals is beyond me. Doesn’t have a Christian bone in his body,” sneered a doubter. “We’re all sinners… but c’mon… the evangelical right is choosing this guy to lead their ‘spiritual awakening?’”

In a sobering statement, a pastor told Christianity Today, “The election was fueled with anger and slander, and we’re culturally fatigued.”

He’s absolutely right, and there’s no end to the consternation in sight.

Regardless of your position on Trump’s campaign for change, and whether or not you believe America is better than it was, we’re in this together for at least another few years. Before you throw in the towel on finding common ground, there is something we can (and definitely should) agree on. That is, that the one thing hasn’t changed: a pastor’s calling to preach Christ.

In a year where optimistic enthusiasm and apocalyptic outcry have jousted for top headlines, pastors looking to give people hope need look no further than the Hope of the world. What people need the most is a renewed perspective that hinges on a kingdom that is not of this world. For the Christian, our King is not dependent on an election – He’s already won victory over the god of this world. Death could not hold Him, Satan couldn’t stop Him, and He’s given His people a Great Commission that transcends an oval office. The Prince of Peace can comfort those who are conflicted by the government. The comforting Redeemer can heal the broken-hearted. The Rock of Ages can calm the anxious soul.

Quite honestly, little attention and direct instruction are given in Scripture with regard to pastors and the topic of politics. But what is? Preaching Christ.

Where do Christians who change the world find their inspiration? Jesus.

Where do Christians who are anxious find their peace? Jesus.

Where do Christians who are fearful find their courage? Jesus.

So, what else do we need? Combine the greatest pre-game speech, and the most riveting political rally cry and they’d still fall astronomically short of a single word from Jesus.

Paul said it many different ways but his point was always the same. People need Christ, Christ, and more Christ! “Let men regard us as servants of Christ,” he declared to the Corinthians (1 Corinthians 4:1). “Preach the word,” he stressed to young Timothy (2 Timothy 4:2). “For I determined to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ, and Him crucified,” he said as he explained his own reliance on the Spirit to fulfill his calling (1 Corinthians 2:2).

It was Charles Spurgeon who humbly said, “I have a great need for Christ; I have a great Christ for my need.” Even the famed Prince of Preachers saw himself as a mere compass pointing to the True North. He must have lived that reality because, as the story goes, a man went to see one of the other well-known preachers of the day and after hearing him preach he was overheard saying, “What a preacher!” A short time later, this same man went to hear Spurgeon preach and afterward he exclaimed, “What a Savior!” Therein lies the ultimate achievement of every preacher who dawns the pulpit.

I don’t know what strategy your church has taken to bring perspective to a wild year, but there is a particular book that offers incredibly worth-while wisdom.

When the author of Hebrews penned a beautiful letter to his primarily Jewish audience at the time, the goal was crystal-clear; elevate and exalt Christ. No political agenda. No social initiative hiding behind spiritualized lingo. Just Jesus. In just the first few verses this is accomplished with precision, and pastors do well to take notice. Throughout the book of Hebrews, the author celebrates the changeless and powerful King! He was, is, and forever will be the Savior of this world. No matter how many heroes that humanity concocts, one Hero trumps them all. And no, it’s not the Donald.

Want to utilize a time-tested strategy to encourage people through the ups and downs of politics and vacillating cultural fads?

Remind them to turn their eyes upon Jesus. Look full in His wonderful face. And the things of earth will grow strangely dim. In the light of His glory and grace.

After a year of political wars, personal struggles, celebrating victories and mourning deep losses, most Christians can sometimes find themselves just holding on for dear life. Right there at the beginning of that letter to the Hebrews are eight Christ-centered truths that remind us all who is in control.

Here they are:

  • Christ is the voice of God to us (Hebrews 1:1-2a)
  • Christ is the Heir of all things (Hebrews 1:2b)
  • Christ is the radiance of God’s glory (Hebrews 1:3a)
  • Christ is the exact representation of God’s nature (Hebrews 1:3b)
  • Christ is upholding all things (Hebrews 1:3c)
  • Christ has made purification for sin (Hebrews 1:3d)
  • Christ is seated at the Father’s right hand (Hebrews 1:3e)
  • Christ is better than the angels (Hebrews 1:4)

Each one of those could be a sermon in and of itself. What if people were given those truths from the pulpit more often? What could happen if politics were kept in their proper place and the pulpit roared with righteous zeal for the risen Christ?

He’s coming back one day. Republicans, Democrats, and everyone in between will bow, and every tongue will confess that Jesus Christ is Lord.

Our job is to preach that message every chance we get and keep the main thing the main thing. Let’s make sure people are ready for their moment with Him.


This article originally appeared on “For the Church” @ www.ftc.co