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3 Proven Ways to “Grow” Your Youth Ministry

For decades the American church has sold a shallow “growth strategy” revolving around the notion that teenagers and college students need copious amounts of shenanigans to stay in the church and buy into Christianity. Youth Pastors famously emerged as 20-40-year old men spending their work week working on a promo skit to garner a response, and “sermons” that refer to the Bible but don’t teach much. The focus was not on raising future church members, it was on getting kids to show up and think it was “cool.”

If you ever wondered why young people left the church in droves seeking truth? It’s no wonder at all. They were finding plenty of entertainment. But they weren’t finding any real truth.

Where I’m Coming From

As I write this, I don’t sit on a perch of arrogance or high-dollar youth conference expertise. While I’ve overseen the student ministry at two churches as both the “students” pastor and/or the pastor who oversees the youth director, the takeaways in the midst of spiritual and numerical growth is consistently: student ministry is tough. It’s trench work with long seasons of waiting to see if the seeds you planted took root. In many cases, it’s small, unnoticed, unappreciated work.

Still, it doesn’t have to be confusing to come up with a strategy for growth — spiritually, speaking. Pragmatic and “next level” conferences will cost you money, show you things you’ll never have the money to implement, and leave you high on hype but low on fruit.

Ditch the gimmicks. Faithfulness works too. The following numbers only serve as an illustration that silences pragmatists who say, “Bible-teaching is fine but doesn’t work.”

We Grew 396% in Six Months

A recent tweet about our student ministry growth invoked a large number of responses that triggered this article. It’s true. We grew fast and it was fun to watch as more families brought their students to our campus. However, we still have a long way to go with discipleship and raising up leaders who raise up leaders. This has happened on both a smaller and larger scale at both churches I have pastored at. In both contexts, the focus was always God’s word over gimmicks. In both contexts, God sovereignly determined growth. Here’s the tweet:

Many were asking me to flesh out the context of the steps that God used to “grow” our ministry. Of course, we all know that God causes growth and that numbers don’t tell the whole story. But the point of the tweet was to illustrate that young people today are hungry for truth and solid teaching. Furthermore, the most important growth (spiritual) can happen when you use ordinary means, and so can numerical growth (though it’s not guaranteed). 

Contrast that with many student ministry strategies today and youth ministry conference “wisdom” that insist on foolish antics, soundbite messages, “tons of games,” and an X-box station to trigger growth, and you can see the dilemma that so many young leaders are faced with. Pragmatism? Or faithfulness? Manufactured growth? Or God-triggered growth?

What We Focused On

For us, things happened to grow after we shifted gears and did these three things. Still, anyone on our team would tell you that we’d be doing the same things for 2 students or 2000. Additionally, our entire elder team was taking this approach with the entire congregation and other ministries as well. 

Here are the “big three” that we focused on, and how we approach each one.  

1. Major on expository preaching

My friend and fellow pastor, Jon Benzinger, always asks: Are you using the Bible to preach your message, or is the Bible using you to preach its message? 

That question is what every pastor who serves teens to college students must ask. Fortunately, expository preaching helps a great deal. If you’re new to the term, it means that instead of preaching random topics and just loading your message with some quotes from Google, an emotional story for your closing altar call, and a couple of random passages sprinkled in, you unpack a text from Scripture in its proper context and apply it to their lives. This doesn’t mean you can’t preach topics, or that there is no place for other approaches to certain subjects, it just means you’re always preaching what the Bible says, rather than what you think.

For example, if you’re preaching on sexual purity, unpack 1 Corinthians 6:18-20, and give them an actual section of Scripture they will forever understand to the fullest. Preach on separating from the world by digging deep into 1 John 2:15-17. Talk about dating by painting a clear picture of a faithful husband or wife in Ephesians 5:22-35 or from 1 Peter 3:1-7.

The goal of each message is to teach from a text and help your audience understanding the original meaning to the original audience. Throughout that text and as you cross-reference and make points, saturate their hearts with Scripture, explain the context and original audience, ask big questions about what things mean and why God would command such things of His people? Unpack what they were going through, what the passage means, and then apply the passage in ways they can immediately put into practice. This takes work. If you’re the “youth” pastor or preacher, don’t spend half your week working on the skit for your promo video. Focus on your job to proclaim the truth. Delegate the skit to someone else. Study the word, pray for their hearts, work on your homiletics, and don’t be boring! As for illustrations, you can still have a riot with those but keep them linked to the text. For example, one night I was preaching out of James 3 and in my study that week I realized James uses some pretty extreme examples to illustrate the damage done by an untamed tongue. Since I couldn’t light anything on fire in the sanctuary, I cut the pulpit in half with a chainsaw to illustrate what your tongue does when it’s used the wrong way at the wrong time. I had a guy in the church whip up a pulpit (so I didn’t destroy the main one at the church) and hid the chainsaw behind a stage speaker. A bit over the top, probably wouldn’t do it again, but still fun and many students never forgot the lesson from the text (but without the forest fire James references). 

If you think young people can only handle (or will come back for) stories with some shallow platitudes, you’re dead wrong. Trust the Lord, be faithful with His word, and let the Bible do the heavy lifting. Prepare your students for their future as church members by preaching the word. Let it fly! And you can still have some fun.

2. Singing sound doctrine (No Bethel, Jesus, Culture, or Hillsong)

 Music is a huge part of every generation and this generation of teenagers to college students is no different. Unfortunately, some of the most popular music groups today are the most dangerous. We chose, for better or worse, not to cave to the culture and sing Bethel Music (or Jesus Culture, or Hillsong) for several reasons but the main reason was that they and their apostolic leaders teach the prosperity gospel, and/or a heretical version of Jesus that headlines the “New Apostolic Reformation.” You can read more here, and watch it here.

This decision took more work, more research, sacrifice, and some heat, but the Lord honored it. Every week parents and students can count on one thing: we sing music filled with sound doctrine from sources that do not teach heresy. Church money is not purchasing music arrangements and tracks that are directly funding heresy. Students are getting rich theology.

As for methods and nuance there is some flexibility. We have lights (bright and dim), sometimes we’re loud, sometimes we raise our hands, sometimes we pray deep and desperate prayers, and sometimes a band member writes a song and the team tries it out. Furthermore, we don’t take the “six degrees” of separation approach with every song choice or band who played with one band who appeared with Bethel. It’s first degree false teachers we’re steering clear of — for now.

Our bottom line: we are firm in theology, flexible in methodology.

3. Live Q & A Session with anonymous questions using QR Code

We all know the horror stories of young people leaving the church because they couldn’t get a straight answer from the Bible or their pastor. Which is why we opted for an open forum, anonymous Q & A at the end of every message. We schedule at least 2 pastors and 1-2 biblically educated leaders to be on the panel each week. Provide stools, a cold bottle of water, a mic, and let your pastors do what they do best. We use a QR code that is on the screens and posted on our Instagram page. Students simply take a cell phone photo of the QR code, and a form pops up on their smartphone that allows them to ask a question. That question generates on a spreadsheet in Google Drive for our team, and just like that, we have loads of questions either ahead of the time or in real-time. We post the code on the screens before the sermon begins and post it again throughout the night. 

Since I am technically challenged, our brilliant intern (who leaves for the Master’s University this fall) lays out the process here:

Q & A Set-Up: 

1. Build the form: setup your Q&A Survey with Google Forms. It’s free and easy! https://docs.google.com/forms/

  1. Setup the form to email / update with responses
  2. Set the “Select response destination” to “Create a new spreadsheet”

2. Manage responses: Find the spreadsheet with responses in your Google Drive and manage responses live during Q&A or update afterward

  1. Add columns to the spreadsheet for any additional tracking information you want to keep updated.
  2. Using a field such as “Answer Date” to mark the ones you’ve answered. Delete rows for any duplicate or off-topic questions.

3. Share it with students and leaders

  1. From Settings select “Send Form” and shorten the link to copy it and generate a QR Code for the form to share with the attendees. 
  2. Paste the QR image into a presentation, PowerPoint slide, or on social media and instruct attendees to point any smartphone camera app at the code to direct them to the form. They can easily fill it out and submit in a smartphone-friendly view.

When it comes to ministry that targets the next generation of church members, we do well to think of the kind of people we are influencing them to be. Will they get the answers they need to be strong, mature, and faithful to the truth? Or will they be flighty, insecure, and immature? God is the one who causes the growth. He also uses your labor as a means to that end (Colossians 1:28-29).

6 Ways to Stifle Your Small Group

Small groups can be an incredible blessing, but they are not fail-proof. At times, churches “sell” small group involvement as the secret sauce to a thriving spiritual life; overflowing with friendships and community that fills hearts and saves marriages!

Don’t get me wrong. I love small groups. For six years I had the privilege of overseeing the small group ministry in our church and some of the most incredible testimonies came from small group participants. They are an excellent vehicle for discipleship.

Still, even when the bible is present and optimism is high, there are several ways to do the right thing the wrong way. Small groups are no exception.

Here are six ways you (or someone in your group) could be stifling the abundant potential waiting to be unlocked through your small group:

1. Say, “Here is what this passage means to me, what does it mean to you?”
This language stifles because it bypasses the very foundation of healthy small groups. Namely, the faithful interpretation of the bible based on the biblical author’s intent and the context a given passage is set in. Far too often, small group leaders share what a passage means “to them,” then they ask what it means, “to you.” After the circle of participants has fired off with their best take, one might think they were aiming at a moving target.

The truth is, those who do this are likely getting application and interpretation confused. The solution? First ask, “What does this passage mean. To the original audience. In proper context. Period.” Then ask, “How can I apply this to my life as someone living in the 21st century.” Over time, you’ll find personal opinions being outshone by God’s will through His word.

2. Let the single-issue-crusaders and dominant speakers run wild
Single-issue-crusaders are the people who always seem to veer the conversation into the same “pet topic” that they are passionate about. I’ve seen crusaders drive well-meaning small group attendees right out of a group and into a different church because they went unchecked; ruining deep discussions by constantly bringing up politics, personal drama, or spewing unvetted opinions about the same issue over and over. These passionate individuals have value, but they rarely achieve their full potential if allowed to go unchecked.

Dominant speakers can be a leader’s greatest asset. They talk when few are willing, their example encourages others to be open and honest, and they usually offer helpful wisdom. However, when they speak too much, it can stifle the entire group. It may be one of the hardest conversations you have in small group life, but single-issue-crusaders and dominant speakers need loving correction for the health of the whole.

3. Don’t show them how you came to understand a biblical truth
If you want to stifle a small group, keep all your bible study wisdom, interpretation tools, and trusted processes to yourself. That way, your group will depend on you like needy children and develop an attachment to you; requiring that you always be their feeder and leader. This will make you feel very important; fueling your ego as the “anointed source” of wisdom and leadership for the group.

What’s more? It will be a mask for your insecurity, inability to raise up others, and ultimately lead to your demise as a leader. Quite possibly, it could prove you were never a real leader in the first place.

Nobody benefits from this!

Set your group on fire by showing them how you’ve grown, how you’ve studied, and how you’ve learned to apply God’s word and live it out. Ask them questions. Lead them to helpful resources, buy them books, and send them articles. Help them cross reference, root out theological themes in a text, identify key phrases and terms, and apply it all to their own life. They aren’t “yours.” They are God’s. Steward them well and emulate Paul’s instructions to Timothy when he commanded, “You then, my child, be strengthened by the grace that is in Christ Jesus, and what you have heard from me in the presence of many witnesses entrust to faithful men, who will be able to teach others also” (2 Timothy 2:1-2).

4. Undermine church leadership by teaching contradictory doctrinal views
Small groups can be sweet, but can quickly turn sour when leaders begin using their influence like Absalom did (2 Samuel 13-19). David’s son became infamous for his scandalous attempt to undermine his father’s throne. Under the deceitful veneer of being a good listener and a leader the people could trust, Absalom paid the ultimate price for his sinful pride.

The moral of this story is not that you will be slain if you undermine your church leaders (that’s a ridiculous scare-tactic some false teachers use!).

However, the lessons in the story about unity and integrity can still apply to us today.

As a leader who has been allowed to steward people, be loyal to qualified leaders and be sensitive to how God views discord (Proverbs 6:16:19). Small group leaders should be unified in doctrine and unified in practice with their church leaders; holding to the statement of faith that their church abides by. If you feel tempted to contradict, or you suddenly disagree with the church’s doctrinal convictions, don’t divide or sow discord amongst your small group. Leave humbly. Your reputation will follow you to the next church.

5. Be closed-minded and abrasive towards adding new people to the group
Closing groups or limiting their capacity is advisable in certain scenarios. Homes and locations are not limitless when it comes to space, and everyone can agree that consistency and trust can occur more rapidly if a small group is not a revolving door of flaky participants; jolting the groups dynamic with each sporadic entrance (or exit).

However, the “frozen chosen” mentality is deadly for group health, and more importantly, church health. This mentality sees new people as a threat, and expanding the reach of the group is seen as detrimental to comfort and familiarity. For groups like this, the idea that a new person or couple would disrupt the tight-knit group dynamic takes precedence over the command we have to make disciples (Matthew 28:16-20).

You don’t have to invite the entire neighborhood or make it hard to find seating in your home, but every believer should ask, “How can we give others the kind of community we’re experiencing?”

6. Resist the idea of “commissioning” potential leaders to start new groups
This final item on the list closely parallels #5 but focuses on stifling leadership development. Similar to being unwilling to invest in new people, a leader who refuses to release mature people will stifle group health and missional effectiveness. Some argue that small groups should endlessly divide and conquer; splitting in half at every turn and adding new people into those split groups. Others suggests different methods and argue that dividing groups is nonsensical. Whatever you choose as a method, the mindset must be the same. Commissioning new leaders to “strike out” and start new groups is a healthy way to duplicate and be faithful to the Great Commission.

Small groups don’t exist to merely give people a safe space, baked goods, and bible study. They exist to duplicate! If stewarded effectively, small groups should be reproducing mature, stable, honest, authentic, passionate, servant-leading disciples who in turn begin to lead others where they have been led.

When centered on faithfulness, unity, and the word of God, small groups can be a thriving vehicle for making disciples and deploying a new generation of leaders for the glory of God.

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)

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.

5 Principles for Sexual Sin

Old time evangelist Vance Havner once said, “The alternative to discipline is disaster.”[1] You know what? He was right. And what’s more? From beyond the grave his words are still piercingly true. When we apply them to how we deal with sexual sin in the church today, his much-needed words touch a sensitive nerve and must stir us into action.

Without question, sexual sin must be addressed and dealt with in the body of Christ. If we do not lovingly and firmly face our impurities, our lack of discipline will most certainly lead to disaster. Are you a church leader to whom God has given some level of responsibility in overseeing His flock? Do you have a biblical philosophy for dealing with sexual sin in the lives of those entrusted to you? Are you a believer who is discipling someone who is floundering in sexual temptation without a clear plan for waging war against sin? Use the following principles from 1 Corinthians 5 and 6. Without a clear plan from God’s word, you may be found wanting in this area of your life and ministry.

#1 Be Direct and Specific

Nobody benefits when sexual sin is kept in the dark by those who know about it. When Paul addresses the sexual sin that was plaguing the Corinthian church he was not passive aggressive or dropping hints in the hopes that someone might catch his drift. He was direct, and specific. In no uncertain terms he wrote, “It is reported that there is immorality among you, and immorality of such kind does not exist even among the Gentiles, that someone has his father’s wife” (1 Cor. 5:1). Well, there are you have it. Paul simply “goes there.” Pastors should use tact when doing this because Paul’s not necessarily mandating a public shaming for every case of sexual sin. In Corinth, this was blatant and unrepentant. It was happening without much challenge. It needed public discipline. How you apply this can vary depending on context. However, one thing is clear: when sexual sin is present it needs to be dealt with in a direct way.

#2 Mourn Sexual Sin

It may be our desensitized culture or the result of antinomianism in too many churches but sin isn’t always mourned the way it should be. Paul sternly reprimands the Corinthians saying, “And you have become arrogant, and have not mourned instead…” (1 Cor. 5:2a). He is unseated in frustration because the Corinthians are not broken over sin. Where is the agony? Where is the good kind of guilt that tells us something is very wrong and must be fixed? Too many professing Christians want to jump right to grace without ever admitting their guilt and expressing genuine repentance. One can argue that the church is fattened with many false converts as a result. We need to know the bad news about our sin and face it before we can appreciate the good news of grace. If you’ve never mourned your sin, you may be living a superficial version of Christianity.

#3 Discipline Sexual Sin

Want to do something unpopular in today’s tolerant world? Call for the discipline of sexual sin when it remains without repentance and is blatantly unceasing. Call it what it is. Call the person what they are. Put them out of the church because they are not a part of the church. True believers will sin, but they will repent of sin and habitual sin will slowly fade from the pattern of their life. Grace doesn’t mean we keep on sinning. Paul exhorts the church to remove “the one who had done this deed” (1 Cor. 5:2b), to “judge those who are within the church” (1 Cor. 5:12), and to “remove the wicked man from among yourselves” (1 Cor. 5:13). This is explicit and clear. Discipline sexual sin.

#4 Command Purity

Another unpopular and dogmatic step here we come! In 1 Corinthians 6 Paul continues by following up his demand for discipline with a command for purity. The body belongs to the Lord and Christians are to “flee immorality” (1 Cor. 6:17). The body “is a temple of the Holy Spirit” (1 Cor. 6:19a) and should be treated as such. There is no room for a sexually flagrant lifestyle in which sexual sin is not repented of. Every church leader is biblically allowed to demand purity from themselves and those they serve. It’s not man’s authority that calls for this. It’s the word of God.

#5 Point to Christ

All these imperatives can seem too intense if we’re not constantly reminding ourselves of the ultimate motivation for purity. Legalism isn’t our motive. Good behavior isn’t our motive. Pleasing men is not our motive. Christ is our motive! In light of the gospel and what Jesus has purchased, every believer can overcome sexual sin and glorify God with their body (1 Cor. 6:20b). Perfection doesn’t come until heaven, but we ought to be progressing in our purity while here on earth. Purity is desired when we remember that we belong to Christ (1 Cor. 6:15) and have been “bought with a price” (1 Cor. 6:20a). Could there be a better motivation when dealing with sin than to look to the One who shed His blood for it?

Much more can be said about dealing with sexual sin and various practical applications can be added to what’s been stated above. But that fact remains, we must internalize what the Bible says about sexual sin so that we can equip ourselves to be striving for purity, and pro-active when helping others.

[1]As quoted in Donald Whitney, Spiritual Disciplines (Colorado Springs: NavPress, 2014), 21.

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.

Discipleship Is…

What does discipleship look like?

As hard as it may be, every Christian needs to take an ongoing look in the mirror and ask: have I ever “made” a disciple? The Great Commission is not a mere suggestion so if Jesus commanded it, we ought to be busy doing it (Matt. 28:16-20). If you’re not sure what discipleship books to buy or where to begin, the Bible is still the best place to go for insight on what discipleship looks like.

In his second letter to Timothy, Paul provides valuable instruction for his protégé in the faith. His goal was to equip Timothy so that he would be equipped to serve the church in Ephesus. Through Paul’s words to him, we see a picture of what discipleship could look like for us today. In the particular context surrounding his letters, Paul’s discipleship of Timothy was a serious need — as discipleship always is. Prior to this final letter he’d ever send, Paul exhorted the elders at Ephesus to shepherd the flock and protect it faithfully from those would attack it from the inside (Acts 20:28). This church was being opposed and the enemy was seeking to undermine its effectiveness. Ephesus was an important epicenter for pagan worship as it was home to the Temple of Artemis and not everyone was a fan of what the gospel was doing to their city. The church was in a battle for souls at Ephesus as the power of the gospel started putting idol makers out of business (Acts 19:24-26). Discipleship was vital to the health of the church then, and it still is today.

With that context in mind, here are three fundamental truths about discipleship that can be drawn from Paul’s pastoral letters.

Discipleship is hard work. Nobody worked harder than Paul to further the gospel and make disciples (1 Cor. 15:10). Paul travelled extensively, reasoned and debated with evangelistic prospects, was beaten, imprisoned, mocked, and eventually killed for the gospel. Through all of this he endlessly poured his life into his disciples. In 2 Timothy, the term Paul uses to describe Timothy is “son” (1:2;2:1). This would be inferred by the text but using such terminology would mean that Paul put in the time and effort it takes to earn that right. You don’t get the privilege of that kind of relationship without putting in the work. Other terms that correlate hard work, ministry, and discipleship are “soldier” (2:3-4), and “workman” (2:15). References to “suffering” or “hardship” (2:3; 3:12; 4:5) are reminders that advancing the gospel and making disciples is arduous labor because we’re preparing others for the same kind of work. Disciples aren’t made in a microwave; they’re made in the field. Keep your work boots by the door each day.

Discipleship is giving direction. Whether you blame passive fathers who produce passive sons, or fault societal assault on dogmatic instruction, it seems that fewer and fewer leaders are prone to giving clear, authoritative direction. Paul doesn’t hint at things or just shoot the breeze with Timothy; calling it “life on life.” He isn’t afraid to tell him what to do! While it’s true that discipleship can be more caught than taught, giving direction is essential if you want to get somewhere. Jesus, while making disciples in a “life on life” scenario with the twelve, still had precision and purpose in what He did. In Paul’s letter to Timothy, he focuses on the task at hand and provides marching orders. Contrary to what anti-authoritarian opinions may be, discipleship includes telling people what to do and showing them how to do it. Paul uses imperative after imperative when directing Timothy. Jesus said that making disciples would involve “…teaching them to observe all that I commanded you” (Matthew 28:20). Discipleship is much more than just telling people what to do, but it’s certainly not less. Of course, being an example is non-negotiable when directing others. The disciple-maker’s instructions must match his own actions as well.

Discipleship is duplicating yourself: One of my favorite portions of 2 Timothy is a section that not many people spend time focusing on. From 4:9-22 there are at least eighteen names listed. Two are those who either deserted or harmed Paul but the rest are people who have come alongside him in ministry and been discipled by him along the way. This is a powerful picture of duplication! Discipleship is not about creating a following that seeks after you, it’s about creating disciples who do ministry long after you. Paul was eventually beheaded and this was his last letter. But because he was faithful to the task of making disciples, his work empowered others to suffer for the gospel and advance the church.

Discipleship should never be far from our ministry repertoire. Without pouring into others we become cesspools of self-importance; forgetting that we have been saved to bring the gospel of salvation to others and we’ve been made into disciples to make disciples of others.

Ten Theological Topics for Parents of Modern Teens

I get dozens of emails each month from parents whose teens are leaving the church or being swept away by a false version of Jesus and the gospel. Most of these parents seem to be well-intentioned believers who are baffled at the outcome of their teenager’s faith. In many cases, their teen was a standout church kid–complete with AWANA pins and VBS nametags from years of outstanding work!

So What Happens?

There are so many variables when teenage faith gets shipwrecked (ultimately, God knows the one in each case) but overall, the parents I talk to all say the same thing: We were definitely “doing” church, but I’m not sure my teen was ready to stand for Christ on their own two feet. It happens in the church like it happens in the car all those years. Kids ride in the backseat of the car while parents drive them around, and, the same goes for their faith. They follow mom and dad, obey all the rules, but don’t end up developed much further. Once the teen is on their own with decision-making, the parents find out the hard way that their beloved son or daughter has little clue about how to make it theologically on their own. Sure, they know enough Sunday school answers to get by, but they don’t know how to put theology into practice. Like a lioness who never teaches her cubs how to hunt for themselves, many parents spoon-feed their teens for six years without ever challenging them to skin their own meat–theologically, of course.

So Where Do I Start?

In this list I’ve compiled ten critical topics for the modern teen. It presumes you will address essentials, including (but not limited to) the gospel, so don’t miss that. Also, here’s fair warning that reading is required if you want to gain wisdom here. I’ll have recommended resources at the end of each listed topic. Do your family a favor and start a theological library if you haven’t already.

  1. How to identify a biblical church?

Does your teen know how what a biblical ecclesiology looks like? You may be thinking, “too many big words…” Well those are words you need to know about. Ecclesiology is basically how the church is supposed to structured according to the Bible. Like shopping for a used car, if your teenager doesn’t know what to look for, they’re likely to get swindled by some deceptive salesmanship. Choose either 9 Marks of a Healthy Church by Mark Dever or The Master’s Plan for the Church by John MacArthur. Challenge your teen by asking them: Can you name at least five priorities of a biblical church?

  1. How to identify a biblical church leader?

Abusive leaders are everywhere–that’s obvious today. Study 1 Timothy 3:1-7 and discuss it at the dinner table for the week. Ask questions like why does it matter for a pastor to be those things? What are some dangers things that can occur if a pastor doesn’t match that list?Both books above will nail this one for you, but just in case, try Biblical Eldership by Alexander Strauch. Read Part One (the first six chapters). It could save your teenager’s life.

  1. Christological heresies & other dangers in modern music movements

Music isn’t just about music these days. It’s a gateway to the famous teachers and personalities who lead movements. Bethel Music, Jesus Culture, and other Third Wave celebrity bands are all teaching things that no biblically-minded parent would want their teens to believe. These bands started under (and continue to submit to) the leadership and influence of false teachers such as Bill Johnson, Kris Valloton, Lou Engle, Shawn Bolz, Heidi Baker, and many others. They teach kenotic theology which holds diminished views on the deity of Christ. This includes the belief that Jesus did His miracles as just a man in right relationship to God…not as God. Based on that, they teach a long list of other dangerous doctrines. They also charge a hefty tuition to their schools that “teach” people how to work the gift of miracles. This movement makes itself sound amazing and attractive, but it’s theological poison. Try a short book called, Defining Deception by myself and Anthony Wood. It has enough truth to arm you for the battle ahead and enough footnotes to keep you up at night watching the dangerous practices these teachers will put your teenager through if they get their hands on them.

  1. False gospels to avoid

It’s important to major in what is true, but sharpening for the growing teen to know why other gospels are false. Kids like to ask “why” when they’re young. I think we still do as adults. Get your teen educated on why the prosperity gospel is a sham even if it looks like the way to live like LeBron James in the church-world. Show them why other “versions” of Christianity are not actually Christian. Analyze the basic beliefs of Word of Faith, New Apostolic Reformation, Mormonism, and Catholicism. Watch the DVD, Clouds Without Water II by Justin Peters. Also, James White should be helpful here. Listening to his shows or messages that center on apologetics is good for training.

  1. The assault on marriage, gender, and biblical manhood and womanhood

Every parent wants their teen to marry the right person but too many are not well-versed on what that looks like. Teens should be provided with a roadmap for understanding why gender is binary and why we can be firm in our theology while still flexible with people. Loving them doesn’t mean we sacrifice truth. For parents serious about gaining wisdom to guide their teen, this may mean that instead of watching Netflix you’re reading books five nights a week for two years. Small price to pay for a lifelong investment. Teach them about gender roles and God’s design for husbands and wives. Many adults are confused because they were not taught at teens. You get one chance to guide them. Try any of these: Recovering Biblical Manhood and Woman by Wayne Grudem and John Piper; The Grand Design by Owen Strachan and Gavin Peacock; Not Yet Married: The Pursuit of Joy in Singleness & Dating; Disciplines of a Godly Young Man by Kent Hughes and W. Carey Hughes; Disciplines of a Godly Woman by Barbara Hughes; Ethics for a Brave New World by John S. Feinberg and Paul D. Feinberg.

  1. The sufficiency of Scripture

Teens are in a process of discovery and questioning things. They may hear a friend or famous teacher say things like, “God spoke to me” or “God spoke to my heart” or “I feel like God said.” This can be confusing for a teen. Help them know confidently that if God told someone something, they wouldn’t “feel” like He did, they’d know He did. Teenagers need help to understand why the Bible is enough for knowing God’s voice. They must be equipped to know God’s word is God’s will. Those who learn this at a younger age are ahead of the curve in today’s church world. Read Just Do Something by Kevin DeYoung; Found: God’s Will (short book) by John MacArthur; Our Sufficiency in Christ by John MacArthur.

  1. The holiness of God

God is holy, not a homeboy. He isn’t some “it” in the sky or a casual deity who lets everybody into heaven because they donated to the Salvation Army at Christmas. Teenagers should be taught why God is holy, what that means, and how they should live in light of that truth. Study The Holiness of God by R.C. Sproul. That will give you talking points.

  1. The sovereignty of God

Rebel hearts need training. Learning and applying truths about the sovereignty of God teaches that I am not in control, the world is not in control, and even parents are not in ultimate control! God is. Calm and assertive Christian teens are that way because they know God is sovereign. They go about their business, trusting and obeying. When fears come, they know who hold the future. Choose a book like The Sovereignty of God by A.W. Pink or The Invisible Hand by R.C. Sproul.

  1. The depravity of man

When our hearts get help on this topic, a humility comes over us that crushes pride and creates a dependency on God. Help your teen understand their sin and inability to satisfy the wrath of God outside of Christ. They are a sinner and hopeless without Him. Teach them how to admit deficiency and declare dependency! Make sure you’re doing this yourself too. Read A Small Book About a Big Problem: Meditations on Anger, Patience, and Peace by Edward T. Welch; The Vanishing Conscience by John MacArthur.

  1. Cultivating an eternal perspective

A 5-inch screen is all the perspective most teens end up with by age 15. Most don’t know a lot about biblical money management, missions, or making their lives count. If you want your teenager to have the tools they need to live with an eternal perspective, nurture their perspective on eternal things! They need to be taught about things like global missions, local church ministry, generosity, taking risks for God, and the importance of carrying on what faithful men and women started long before us. Several books can be helpful here such as Don’t Waste Your Life by John PiperManaging God’s Money by Randy Alcorn; The Daring Mission of William Tyndale by Steven J. Lawson.

What is the most essential ingredient not on the list? Your life. Teenagers can smell a fake from 100 miles away. It may be wise to tackle this list yourself while you’re at it. And remember, a list like this doesn’t guarantee your teen will not struggle in the world today or even go prodigal. Prayer will always be your #1 weapon. When paired with your own faithful witness, you can trust God knowing you’ve done your best.

Reaching Those Caught in Deception

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

A Biblical Roadmap for Rescue

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

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

Jude shows us how: 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.