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The Courageous Example of John MacArthur

It’s been impossible for me to miss the controversy that’s been brewing in Southern California between Governor Gavin Newsom and Sun Valley’s Grace Community Church as led by their pastor-teacher, John MacArthur.

As a former member of Grace (and custodian), and graduate of The Master’s Seminary, it’s been interesting for me to consider his recent refusal to comply with the governor’s unconstitutional (and therefore, illegal) order against gatherings in places of worship. His boldness and courage are a stark contrast to the myriad of evangelical leaders who kneeled at the feet of the social justice mob just a couple short months prior and are criticizing him for taking a stand on the lordship of Jesus over human government.

This entire situation has me curiously pondering: What is it that makes a “John MacArthur?” What keeps him from the mad rush to find the middle ground on every issue? What has caused him to take stand after stand over the past fifty years yet remain unmoved because “the Bible says so?” I remember him saying once that he’s never once cared about what people are going to think about him—how’s that even possible?

Examples in the Past

As I consider these questions, I am reminded of church history class and the International Council on Biblical Inerrancy (1978). A beloved college professor of mine made us memorize paragraphs from that statement.  After he died in 2002, his wife gave me his audiocassettes of that council.  The names on those tapes are a “who’s who” of the glory days of 20th-century evangelicalism—men like J.I. Packer, Norman Geisler, Gleason Archer, Edwin Yamauchi, John Gerstner, R.C. Sproul, James Montgomery Boice, Francis Shaeffer, and almost 300 others.  Many of the signatories were giants in the church of their day.

As one of those who signed it, John MacArthur (at that time, a 39-year-old pastor) is in their rarified air. He is one of the last men standing of a fading generation who knew the truth, loved the truth, defended the truth, and were not at all afraid to contend for it either.

His life has made me wonder: Who is alive today that will take his place in evangelicalism? At over 80 years old, who will fill the leadership vacuum when he’s taken to heaven? Where are the leaders who are ready and happy to take the social media mob head-on, both inside and outside of the church, and refuse to back down? They do not exist, as far as I know. He is the last of a dying breed I’m sure many are happy to see go, but I’m terrified to lose. Far too many of our 21st century evangelical leaders are better at being politicians or motivational speakers than they are at being warriors, and this is at a cultural moment when we have a desperate need for warriors.

This, again, causes me to ask, why? I think it’s because those men grew up in an era before relativism had the cultural dominance it does now. They lived in a world where right was right, wrong was wrong, the truth was the truth, lies were lies, and sin was sin. These faithful men saw it on the horizon and warned Christians against its potential to undermine every single thing evangelicals believe.

Emptiness in the Present

That is not our world at all.  Evil is good; good is evil (Isa 5:20). Nothing is right or wrong except what our politically correct masters tell us is. The intent of an author is impossible to determine. Power is oppressive. Feelings determine our decisions. Truth is not objective; it is merely a personal or societal construct. Lies and hypocrisy are useful tools that help advance one’s agenda. The ends justify the means. In the church, we baptized the fear of man (also known as co-dependency or peer-pressure) and turned it into a ministry philosophy, assuming that, “If the non-Christian world likes us—thinks we’re helpful, cool and relevant—they’ll like Jesus too.”

Everything leftover is considered “gray area,” as if non-essential doctrines for salvation mean “unimportant” for the faithfulness and courage of a church leader. Where conviction was once found, we now found deflecting or straw-man sentiments like:

  • “There are good people on all sides.”
  • “They may be in error but they are such a nice person.”
  • “I want to be known by what I am for, not against.”
  • “It must be nice to have all the answers.”
  • “My truth is my truth. Your truth is your truth.”
  • “The Pharisees were good at pointing things out too.”

This is the cultural air that I’ve breathed since I was born.  Most adults my age (43) and younger consider relativism “just the way it is.”  As Allan Bloom once said, denying it is like trying to convince people that 2 + 2 isn’t 4 (which was embarrassingly attempted recently).

Emasculation in the Future

In a culture where relativism reigns, a culture without reality, without truth, without right and wrong answers, pastors will have a hard time going beyond, “Well, there are 4 views on that.”  Without doing the hard work of determining which views best match the Bible through exegesis and logical argumentation, pastors simply do not have the tools to do what MacArthur’s doing now. Instead, they’ve become convinced that the only stand they should take is not taking a stand (unless it’s a stand the culture approves of) and standing against anyone who does. So, I predict we’ll see more and more Christian leaders cave to the culture, call it heroic, get affirmation from their cheering section for being relevant or shrewd or loving or reasonable, all while assuring their deadened consciences that they’ll take a stand when it “really matters.”

No, they won’t! This is wishful thinking at best and self-delusion at worst for one overwhelming reason: John MacArthur can do what he’s doing because he has convictions, but relativism makes convictions impossible. In a world where there is no truth, there’s nothing to take a stand on. Oh, people will have convictions—don’t get me wrong—but instead of coming from the truth (John 17:17), they will come uncritically from their upbringing, a hierarchy they trust, heroes they admire, or the cultural overlords who are all too ready to choose their convictions for them.

Without convictions that are well thought out and deeply rooted in the bedrock of Scripture, pastors cannot have courage. We’ll never have the bravery we’re seeing in John MacArthur. Truth leads to convictions and convictions produce courage. Without convictions, the church will continue to be led by “men without chests” (C.S. Lewis) who genuflect before the mob, who won’t have the fortitude needed to stand in these dark days, but who will feign courage by passionately criticizing nobody but those who have it. Wavering and weak, many will seek to insulate themselves from ever being a target of the world’s hatred, something Jesus told His followers to expect and embrace (John 15:18-20). In Christ’s mind, it seems that we have a choice to make: we can be faithful or popular.  All of us, sooner or later, will be forced to choose and we can only choose one!

In the end, you may not agree with John MacArthur, but he doesn’t care, and neither should you. What you should be asking about John MacArthur is not, “Do I agree with what he’s doing?” Instead ask, “Will I have his courage when it’s my turn to stand?” Courage is the lesson young pastors (and a ton of older ones) should be learning from John MacArthur right now. Thank God for him.

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Jon Benzinger (@jonbenz) is the Lead Pastor at Redeemer Bible Church in Gilbert, Arizona (@rbcgilbert). He has a passion for teaching God’s word and has been doing so in both the local church and academia for nearly twenty years. He lives with his wife and three children in Queen Creek, Arizona.

The Kind of Preaching the Church Needs

The church needs bold, biblical, unashamed preaching. Though most every church will claim they “preach” and that they preach the Bible, that isn’t necessarily the case.

If there is one thing that a church must excel in prioritizing it is not a building campaign, story-telling, TED talks, pragmatic growth strategies, or more programs. It is preaching. Real, biblically-saturated, passionate, accurate, counter-cultural, Jesus-glorifying preaching. That is the ministry that every other ministry flows out of.

It is through preaching that the stewardship of the gospel — which has been entrusted to the church — is faithfully dispensed to a lost and hurting world (Romans 1:16-17).

It is through preaching that the saints are equipped for the work of service and thus build up the body of Christ (Ephesians 4:12). It is through preaching that faith comes to the one who hears the word of Christ (Romans 10:17). It is through preaching that wayward sinners repent (Luke 15:7).  It through preaching — and, preaching the whole counsel of God — that preachers themselves fulfill their call to be faithful “stewards” (Acts 20:27; 2 Timothy 4:1-5).

Catherine Marshall once wisely explained, “The faithfulness of a steward consists in his dispensing to the household exactly what has been committed to him; the faithfulness of a witness lies in his declaring with honesty and candour exactly what he knows, neither concealing part of the truth, nor distorting it, nor embellishing it.”

When such an explanation of stewardship is applied to preaching, how can we not conclude that any church and its preacher is required to preach exactly what the Bible declares if it is to be defined as “faithful?”

I was recently reflecting on the vitality of faithful preaching in the church today and at least 4 “needs” came to mind.

  1. The church needs preaching that fears God

If we’re absorbed with fearing God, there is no time or energy left with which to fear men. But we’re human. So naturally, we’ll waver from time to time. All the more reason to be absorbed in fearing God.

Some preachers fear for their paycheck because their church culture is as such that they must preach to please men, not God. Others avoid words like “repent,” or “sin,” in favor of softer language that is less offensive. But such language is in the Bible, and therefore, directly given by God (2 Timothy 3:16-17). It is impossible to preach with a deep reverence for God when busy catering to the mood swings of people or tip-toeing around hard truths. That is not God’s will for His church or His preachers. Churches need to expect their pastors to comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable. It does not do a church any good to have preachers that are little more than puppets.

Jesus’ sobering reminder in Matthew 10:28 is fitting here as He declared to His disciples, “And do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather fear him who can destroy both soul and body in hell.”

The church needs preachers who fear God; who are unashamed and unreserved as they boldly enter the pulpit and unleash logic on fire.

  1. The church needs preaching that feeds them Scripture

It’s easy to find great stories, emotional manipulation, and cultural pandering in many pulpits today. It’s harder to find biblical preaching. A dear pastor friend will often exhort younger men to ask themselves this convicting question when assessing their approach to preaching: “Am I using the Bible to preach my message, or is the Bible using me to preach its message?”

The bottom line is: the church needs Scripture. No matter how important the financial needs of a church are, no matter what programs the church wants to push or what upcoming events need to be announced, the most important item of “business” when the church gathers is not the business of fundraising or convincing people to register for the women’s tea, it is the business of feeding sheep the word of God. Many practical things will certainly need to (and should) happen when the church gathers, but nothing is more essential than preaching.

Like those in John 12:21 who came to Philip with a request, the church must demand of its preacher: “Sir, we wish to see Jesus.”

  1. The church needs preaching that focuses on eternity

Richard Baxter exclaimed, “I preached as never sure to preach again, and as a dying man to dying men.”

This is eternal perspective in preaching. A preacher should rightly ask himself, “What if this were the last sermon I ever preached?” Not only that, but the church needs preaching that points them to their eternal home.  The letters of 1 & 2 Peter are the embodiment of eternal focus in amid a chaotic culture. Peter places a strong emphasis on the fact that believers are aliens, sojourners, or exiles, just passing through while here on earth. Our citizenship is in heaven.

A faithful preacher doesn’t guarantee “your best life now.” A faithful preacher declares that your best life is yet to come.

  1. The church needs preaching that is fueled by love

On the subject of a preacher’s love, Martin Lloyd-Jones said, “To love to preach is one thing, to love those to whom we preach quite another.”

Love is giving people the truth. Love is preaching with a moist eye. Love is seeing them as souls in need of their beautiful Savior!

As a young pastor, I was once in a meeting where I heard a leader refer to people as “giving units.” I’d never heard such a term but quickly realized that this how many church administrations view people. Such talk is disgusting for a preacher of God’s word and whether one realized it or not, such talk trains the mind to view people as a means to the financial bottom line. Yes, we can make projections and see families within the local church as those who support the work of ministry and allow that budgets be created and sustained. But they are never to be referred to or seen as “giving units.” They are precious people who need the gospel. And, their giving and spiritual gifts are the outworking of gospel transformation that occurs when God uses the loving and faithful preaching of church leaders (Ephesians 4:12).

In 1 Timothy 1:5 Paul reminds his young protégé in the faith, “The aim of our charge is love that issues from a pure heart and a good conscience and a sincere faith.” Preachers motivated not by money or pragmatic results, but by love, are what the church needs today.

If you’re a preacher, may you fulfill your ministry with a heart of love for God’s glory and God’s people. If you’re a member of Christ’s flock, may you find and flourish in pastures led by faithful preachers of God’s word.

Navigating Different COVID-19 Convictions

If there is one word to describe how we must navigate re-gathering amid COVID-19, it’s this: grace. 

A friend of mine who happens to be the Vice President of a prominent seminary and no stranger to the challenges in leadership recently tweeted words that accurately predict the current (and coming) landscape in homes, families, and friendships.

Charles Smith wrote: “Prediction: one of the most challenging aspects of the #COVID19 recovery will be disagreements over acceptable post-COVID social norms between friends and family. Hurt feelings will abound if we’re not careful. Extend lots of grace. Everyone is different.”

He couldn’t be more right. This reality is especially going to hit hard for pastors — starting with the dynamic between staff and leadership teams.

I believe one of the ways that the enemy will seek to divide our ranks within the church is by tempting us to use our opinions against each other. If the Devil has his way, we’ll be throwing stones of accusation from all sides, calling the cautious people “soft,” labeling the optimists of being “reckless.” More than that, the enemy especially loves when we cement ourselves in political corners; adding opinionated fuel to the already tumultuous fire of conflict.

Things can get ugly — very quickly.

This is a new frontier of ministry for an entire generation of leaders. We must recognize the challenges and begin to determine how we will face COVID recovery before it erodes valuable relationships.

Navigating our varying COVID convictions is a non-negotiable for any leader who desires not only a physically healthy organization, but an emotionally healthy one too.

We’re Going to Be Different

The pastoral staff I am a part of is one example of taking differing approaches to COVID quarantine and ministry, and that’s okay. Our different approaches have even become helpful because we can diversify our ministry efforts like different members of the body should (1 Corinthians 12:12). Further, we are sharpened in our ability to love one another regardless of unique circumstances. One of our pastors has vulnerable family members and works exclusively from home. One had a baby during the crisis and needed others to carry the added load while he went on paternity leave. Another can serve more openly in the community right now, while another endured unexpected back surgery and is mostly bound to bed during recovery time. It takes a great deal of sensitivity and understanding to navigate how each member of our team is approaching the scenario. It will continue to require such understanding as we approach re-gathering with friends, family, and our church. The reality is, we are all a unique blend of experiences, vulnerabilities, preferences, tendencies, and talents.

Perhaps you relate to one or more aspects of the following COVID-19 profiles:

Cautious: Those who primarily work from home, follow every aspect of CDC regulations, and prefer to stay conservative about their re-gathering plan.

Confident: Those who don’t wear a mask, spend greater amounts of time with people outside their home and don’t mind tight proximity, obey the law but don’t necessarily worry much about going the extra-mile with precautions, lean towards re-gathering now regardless of the news, and some think this crisis may be blown way out of proportion.

“Cauti-dent”: Those who find themselves doing and feeling a little bit of everything in both the cautious and the confident profile.

There are certainly a few more profiles that could be added here, including those who have strong opinions about churches holding services online instead of gathering physically, obedience to government instructions, and conspiracy theories about numerous aspects of the crisis, but those views do not necessarily help us navigate re-gathering.

It’s Okay to Be Different

The temptation is to look at these profiles and let your opinion dominate your perspective.

For highly confident optimists, others are much too conservative. Perhaps, some would even accuse others of living by fear and not faith — which can be true of all of us at times.

For cautious types, confident optimists may be too relaxed as the “what ifs” begin to creep into their minds. They think, what do we gain by re-gathering so quickly? Isn’t it better to be safe than sorry?

As the spiral of opinion leads you downward, you must formulate a game plan that takes you upward. It’s okay to be different! To have a healthy family, a healthy team, and a healthy church there must room for different opinions and experiences. These differences often stretch us and help us grow together and learn from each other. We need to respect one another and realize that everyoneis navigating a new frontier.

A healthy relational ecosystem allows for “different,” and even leverages it to help us make decisions.

Attitude Determines Altitude​

You may have a healthy culture in your church, organization, or family. Conversely, you may be seeing tension rising and anticipate this issue being a major challenge. Whatever the case, your attitude is going to determine your altitude. In other words, whether or not you lead yourself and others above the fray and towards a higher perspective depends on attitude.

Here are 4 attitudes for COVID-19 re-gathering that will strengthen your ability to navigate differing views and approaches:

1. Optimistic people are a blessing to my life. It keeps me hopeful about the future and enables me to embrace uncertainty as opportunity.

2. Cautious people are a blessing to my life. It keeps me sensitive to the needs and concerns of others and enables me to make prudent decisions.

3. Different gifts and approaches make us all more effective. Pride demands that everyone do things the way we demand. Read 1 Corinthians 12 and celebrate different gifts.

4. People matter more than my opinion. Being in healthy relationships with people is a privilege that requires me to love others above myself. When I am highly opinionated, I can needlessly hurt others.

Choose Love

In the end, these attitudes prepare our hearts and minds to do one thing above all else: choose love. Preserving valuable relationships and developing healthy teams, churches, and families is more important than winning arguments, or being (more) right.

Look, when this crisis begins to wind down, there will be plenty of people who got some things right, and plenty of people who got some things wrong. There will be those who blew things out of proportion, and those who didn’t take things as seriously as they should’ve. Some will take longer to come back to the office, others will rush in (or are already there).

What will it matter if we re-gathering only to end up “socially distant” again not because of a virus, but because of our inability to love others who approach COVID-19 differently than we do?

Choose love.

***This article was originally published by “For the Church” here.

Video: Is Tithing 10% Commanded for The Church?

The term “tithing” isn’t as controversial as the definition is.

Quite often, in faithful churches around the world, you will hear the word “tithe” attached to “offerings” as a traditionally general way to describe giving. A pastor might say, “This morning you can give your tithes and offerings in the buckets as they go by or online.” 

Usually, this is referring to general giving and is not thought of beyond that. 

However, there is a large swath of church leaders who mean something very specific when they use the word “tithe.” These teachers insist that tithing is commanded for New Testament believers today and that to give any less than 10% of your income to the church is “robbing God.” 

There is no reason to be unkind and suspect that all of these teachers are false or evil, but there is reason to study Scripture and make sure that we are teaching and obeying it accurately. Some Christians I’ve met have gone their entire life without every studying the topics of tithing, money, and generosity. There is so much to learn and life-changing truths are just waiting to be applied to our worship of God and love for others.

In this video, fellow pastor Kyle Swanson and I speak openly and biblically about what the tithe is, and whether or not it’s commanded today. 

Should we be incredibly generous in our giving? Certainly! Should we be flippant in how we handle and obey Scripture? Certainly not. 

 

4 Ways to Leverage “Social Distancing”

COVID-19 has changed the way we can “do church” for the foreseeable future, but that doesn’t mean pastors, leaders, and people can’t stay connected.

While some Christian leaders may get sucked into the vortex of social revolution or cavalier rebellion, Romans 13:1 reminds us to be law-abiding citizens by respecting governing authorities. This means that instead of reacting with anger or indifference, we bring the most glory to God by leveraging the situation for the gospel and the church; making the best of opportunities afforded to us.

Here are 4 ways that church leaders can leverage “social distancing.”

1. Go “LIVE” on Facebook, YouTube, or Instagram
I am not certain we fully realize how powerful social media can be for the gospel. Hundreds of millions of people are at the tip of our fingertips on any given day, and content stays out there indefinitely. If you’ve never gone “LIVE” on social media to connect with people, now is perfect to learn how. There is no limit to how much preaching and teaching you can do. While COVID-19 can contain us, it cannot contain God’s word. Unleash sermons by using the “LIVE” feature on social media sites and get people together in real-time. Certain platforms like Facebook have comment sections that allow your team to interact with views during the message. Lastly, if you’re a small group leader, consider shifting to a “LIVE” model or another video platform to keep your group connected.

2. Produce that discipleship content you’ve been meaning to get to
Most church leaders I interact with have more ideas than they have time to implement them. With quarantines changing the way leaders spend and manage their time, now is the perfect opportunity to create content that will bless people now and in the years to come. Great leaders don’t wait for work, they create work! Be a self-starter and think of what could bless the people you serve in creative (long-term) ways. Short videos on giving, serving, evangelism, doctrine, marriage, parenting, and trials are all a fitting place to start. I genuinely believe that a church can still grow in times like these. The question is, will you keep coming up with excuses not to create content? 

3. Send personal, hand-written notes
This may not seem innovative or cutting-edge, but it is. Very few leaders do this anymore and even few would think of it unless “social distancing” forced us apart. People are so used to email, social media posts, and text messages that they might burst into tears after reading a note from their pastor. I’ve seen this happen before! In fact, just yesterday I received a hand-written note from another pastor in East LA. It was one of the highlights of my day! During the COVID-19 outbreak, most of us will e-communicate as much as possible, and that’s a loving thing to do for our neighbors. However, mixing in a personal touch (minus the touching) could speak volumes to people in need of personal and loving interaction. So, wash your hands, use stick-on stamps only, seal the envelop w/ glue or a sticker too, spray it all with Lysol (twice!), and send some love to those who need to know you care.

4. Start a Facebook support group
One of the best ways to share and meet needs during this season of social-distancing is to start a support group for your church or small group. This also helps work around Facebook algorithms which aren’t always promotion-friendly to religious organizations trying to reach an audience. Groups reach the newsfeed of participants much more than other posts on FB that don’t relate to a special group — especially from religious sources. Group interaction allows pastors, leaders, and people to share prayer requests, ask questions, and delegate needs and resources as needed. Best of all, you can use #1 here too and go “LIVE” specifically to address the group with important updates.

Perhaps COVID-19 will trigger new ways of thinking and a new perspective when it comes to using media to equip Christians (Ephesians 4:11-12). Or, perhaps it will remind us all how powerful a simple hand-written note can be for a lonely Christian wondering if anyone has thought of them.

Why not use this season of change to see what you can change? Who knows. You might even keep using some of these helpful tools after the virus has passed.

10 Lessons from Online Seminary

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

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

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

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

Here are ten lessons I learned along the way:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Recommended Reading:

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

Discerning Your Call to Ministry (Jason K. Allen)

Dangerous Calling (Paul Tripp)

Found: God’s Will (Jon MacArthur)

One With a Shepherd (Mary Somerville)

The Character of Leadership (Jeff Iorg)

Seven Habits of Highly Effective People (Stephen Covey)

3 Ways to Kill Gossip

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

If you don’t, it’ll slaughter sheep.

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

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

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

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

Here’s how:

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

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

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

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

6 High Commitments for Church Members

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

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

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

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

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

1. A High Commitment to GATHERING

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

2. A High Commitment to DISCIPLING

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

3. A High Commitment to SERVING

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

4. A High Commitment to GIVING

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

5. A High Commitment to PRESERVING

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

6. A High Commitment to REACHING

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

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

Can We Learn from Paul’s Conversion Assessment?

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

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

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

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

Sin is Mourned and Christ Becomes Master

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

Be Baptized and Proclaim Christ

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

Be Open to Conversion Assessment

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

Love Accountability

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

Final Thoughts

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

3 Takeaways from India 2019

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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