chosen

Chosen to Abide and Rest

When I assumed the lead pastor role at a former church, one of the amazingly supportive couples in leadership sent me the following thoughts. The church was going through a grieving process over the loss of their previous pastor, always a tough situation for the incoming pastor.

When I received their note I sensed the presence of God in the words. Somehow I knew I’d need the assurance and confidence they would inspire within me. Now years later, I can see how true that has been. In fact, I find myself leaning upon these truths even today.

Last week I was meditating on John 15, and the Lord reiterated these same thoughts to my heart. Back in September (2012) when I went fulltime into my current ministry, Jesus spoke to me about abiding in Him, and He in me. That would be the key, I heard Him say. He would open doors, give me the wisdom I need, provide for our needs, and direct me clearly into the teachings He would have me share as I travel here and there.

All I can say is that He has been faithful, and I’m continuing to learn how to rest in Him.

I hope these words are a strength to you as well … rhema to your soul. God bless you.

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“You are in God’s place at God’s perfect time. Your days are in His hands, and He is your future. 

“He has gifted you and placed His hand upon you to bless you and make you a blessing.

 “The burden of your ministry is not yours to carry—as you rest, He will work; as you abide, He will bring fruit; as you sow, He will give the increase.

 “He is your shield and your exceeding great reward.” (Roy Lessin, from God Has Chosen You.”)

We thank the Lord that He has called you to Himself, to your ministry, and to us. God Bless You.

“You have not chosen Me, but I have chosen you, and ordained you, that you should go and bring forth fruit, and that your fruit should remain.”  —  John 15:16 (King James Version)

directed

Directed Worship

As pastors, what do we teach our churches about worship? Do we approach worship as an event or a lifestyle? As singing or breathing? As being or attending?

In John 4 Jesus tells the woman at the well, “We know what we worship.” He is putting his finger on the fact that worship of God is a response to revelation of God.  How much emphasis do we put on the idea that we are able to worship God because he has revealed himself to us (primarily through his Word)? For years I referred to our singing as “the worship”. I know all the readers here at Cross Connection understand that our music is an opportunity to worship according to a certain form (singing). But how much do our churches catch that? Is worship event based or life based? No doubt there is something special about worshipping God in the assembling of ourselves, but the fundamental fact is, we never actually stop worshipping.

We are incessant worshippers. Jesus doesn’t deny that the woman at the well worshipped. He simply said that she didn’t know the object of her worship. This is why idolatry is such a strong theme in Scripture. Our hearts fixate on objects to worship. In fact, Harold Best, in his book Unceasing Worship, says that when we sin, we don’t actually stop worshipping. Our worship has simply changed direction. This reality is touched on by the woman who asked Jesus about the locality of worship (this mountain or Jerusalem). Jesus moves the discussion from one of locality to one of centrality (spirit and truth).

As the gospel is revealed to me over and over through reading the Scriptures, preaching, good books, the church community etc., my heart is thrilled by the revealed Christ which leads to Godward worship. So too, for our churches. If our churches think that worship is more the issue of on or off instead of direction, then we will be content worshipping the wrong thing on Monday morning or Friday evening. Connecting worship of God to revelation of God helps people see Jesus as all satisfying. This means at work Monday morning they can joyfully and diligently, work fully satisfied in the acceptance and work of Christ versus the acceptance and satisfaction from the job in an of itself. The office then becomes a sanctuary of worship. The mother with small children can joyfully serve her needy little ones recognizing that all her needs are met in Jesus and her service to her kids becomes an outpouring of worship to God.

leadership

The Necessity of Pastoral Leadership

The role of pastor-teacher, especially that of lead pastor-teacher, is one in which a number of spiritual gifts are in operation.

The gift of the word of wisdom is essential, that the pastor might give a word in season in difficult situations (Isaiah 50:4). Prophecy is essential, that the pastor might speak edification and exhortation and comfort to men (1 Corinthians 14:3). Evangelism is helpful, especially for the church planter. Teaching is an obvious need, as the pastor is commanded to feed Christ’s sheep with the whole counsel of God (John 21:17; Acts 20:27). And so on…

But of all the spiritual gifts that a pastor may have, leading is right near the top of the list. The pastor who has strong abilities to tend and teach God’s people will do fine, but without the gift of leadership the church may get stuck in its numerical growth … perhaps at the 75 number that represents the size of the average American congregation; or perhaps at the 200 number that is typical of the size at which many churches remain fixed. [I’ll not be entering a discussion about the ideal size of a church. The ideal size of a specific church is determined by several factors. That discussion is too broad for the purposes of this blog.]

In my experience working with churches and pastors, I have observed that churches that have been able to create a culture of equipping and releasing legitimate ministry and responsibility have been able to exceed these numbers. The churches that remain small or stuck have not been able to create such a culture.

Sometimes churches are stuck because of the desire of the people. Some are not willing to be part of a church that is too large, as they feel uncomfortable. So if it grows past a certain point, they leave for smaller pastures. At other times churches are stuck because of the pastor. He may be uncomfortable pastoring where he does not know everyone personally. Or perhaps he is so engaged on doing the ministry that he neglects the training of others do to significant ministry. I’ve seen pastors that do it all—they clean, they mow, they teach, they sing, they counsel, they bookkeep, etc. Such pastors have something in common; their churches are always small.

In Exodus 18, Moses’ father in law Jethro gave Moses sound advice after observing him doing ministry all by himself. Jethro counseled Moses to find able men with strong character, and to delegate the responsibility of the ministry to them according to their abilities. This thrust Moses into another kind of leadership which not only saved his life but also made life much better for the entire congregation.

In the book of Acts, important ministry was thrust upon the apostles when the Greek speaking widows were being slighted in the daily distribution of food. Wisely, the apostles did not yield to the temptation of doing this ministry themselves. Instead, they oversaw a Spirit-led process of identifying and releasing seven men full of the Holy Spirit and wisdom that would be responsible for the matter. The apostles were exercising leadership by such an action, and were able to be faithful to their God-given priorities of the ministry of the Word of God and prayer. The result was that the church grew by leaps and bounds.

I’m going to include an excerpt from the CCPN church planting manual that speaks very well to the issue of the priority of pastoral leadership. It is Jesus’ desire that His pastors do ministry His way. Hopefully this will encourage some to make adjustments that may prove helpful in the growing of His church.

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Leading: able to cast vision, mobilize, inspire and build systems. It seems axiomatic that lead pastors be able to lead (1 Cor.12:28). Leaders must know where God is leading them (vision) and be able to persuade others to follow them. C. Peter Wagner describes leadership as, “The spiritual ability that God gives to certain members of the body of Christ to set goals in accordance with God’s purposes for the future and to communicate these goals in such a way that they voluntarily and harmoniously work to accomplish those goals for the glory of God.”

Are you able to communicate and strategize effectively? Although pastoral care is important it may not be  the primary role of the pastor of the church, at least not if the church is going to grow numerically. In that case, the more important roles include casting vision, developing leaders, teaching, prayer and making disciples.

Chuck Swindoll observes that the key is inspiring influence, “Those who do the best job of management – those most successful as leaders – use their influence to inspire others to follow, to work harder, to sacrifice, if necessary.” When godliness and great vision are combined in the same person, that individual exerts great influence over others.

The average pastor can care for only about 75 people (the average size of a U.S. church). So, for the church to grow beyond that level requires the pastor to learn to effectively lead by establishing administration, organization, systems, delegating & intentionally mentoring others to lead (as in Exodus 18 and Acts 6).

Lifework: consider your ministry experience to date, what evidence is there to support the idea that you are a capable leader?

Teaching: effectively communicate the truth of the text, in context with cultural relevance, and be able to refute false doctrine since it threatens people’s relationship with God. Preliminarily, recognize that this is the threshold qualification for a pastor-elder (1 Tim.3). Our movement emphasizes expositional Bible teaching, verse by verse through books of the Bible (Is. 28:10). Consider the example of Ezra, he prepared his heart to seek the Law of the Lord (studied), and to do it (applied the Word in his own life), and to teach statutes and ordinances in Israel (note: he did not try to teach until after he studied and sought to live it; Ezra 7:10).

Also, we need to distinguish teaching from a dynamic personality or oratory skills. In other words, you may be able to draw a crowd but might not be teaching the Word of God. James provides a sober warning that those who assume the role of teacher will be headed to a stricter standard (higher judgment) regarding the soundness of the doctrine they expound (Ja. 3:1). Do you have the gift to teach and are you diligent to stir-up that gift? In other words, do you apply diligent effort to grow as a Bible teacher? Do you devote yourself to the study of the Word and seek to grow as a communicator of the truth? Have you studied systematic theology? Do you spend “quantity time” observing and interpreting the text before trying to apply the text to people’s lives? Are people growing in their understanding of God as a result of your teaching? Does anyone want to hear what you have to say? While numbers are not the litmus test of teaching success if you are unable to attract people you may not have the gift.

Lifework: consider your ministry experience to date, what evidence is there to support the idea that you are a capable teacher?

Shepherding: pastors will give an account to God for how they cared for the spiritual well-being of those they were entrusted to care for (Heb.13:17). You need to love people and be diligent to care for the flock – don’t view the people as your audience but love them like Jesus who was moved with compassion (Mk.6:34). Care for people because Jesus loves them & gave His life for them (Ac. 20:28). Protect them from wolves who attempt to draw them from Christ to themselves, & remember the Sheep belong to Jesus (Ac. 20:29). Learn to listen well or else you won’t discover how people are doing. I confess, that I need to remember to listen better, to be patient with people, and to avoid jumping to conclusions. When I listen better I’m a more effective shepherd.

God will set shepherds over His people who will care for them in place of worthless self- focused shepherds who desert the sheep (Jer. 23:4, Zech.11:15-17, Jn.10:12-13). Being a shepherd requires you to see people as individuals with needs instead of a multitude (Mk. 6). A shepherd is on mission to seek and save that which is lost (Lu.19:10).

A pastor’s perspective (from pastor Bruce Zachary): in my “early years” as a church planter I confused being a shepherd, in other words loving people, with wanting to care for every perceived need. It tended to create unhealthy dependency upon me, rather than God, and I tended to like being needed. Nevertheless, it was unhealthy for the church and for me on various levels. Furthermore, this dynamic is prevalent in small churches under 150 adults. Therefore, I suggest that you focus on leading and teaching as priorities and then being a shepherd.

delay

Gospel Interruptions

I think that the dictionary entry for ‘pastor’ should in part define the role as “slave to demands.” At least that can be what it feels like. I do not mean to imply that the demands are bad demands, but rather that needs can be so steady that they can begin to dictate what we do and how we do it. Although these things should enter into our planning and decision making process, they should be viewed as factors and deciders.

One of the struggles I have is finding time to spend with non-Christians. My hours can be so consumed with ministering to Christians (which is vital), that involvement with the world can prove challenging. If I am not intentional about interaction with those outside of the church, I may never see them. I do have a couple times a week where I intentionally interact with non-believers. I go into a secondary school where I primarily work with Christian kids, but interact with some non-believers as well. I am part of a running club, which weekly brings me into contact with non-believers.

A couple weeks ago, I (and some of the other UK pastors) flew to Germany for a pastor’s conference. Would you believe that the highlight of the trip was the travel!? We missed our first flight (sitting at Heathrow airport, just 30 minutes from home for 8 hours), the airline lost our luggage, which caused us to miss our train. On the return flight, the security workers were on strike in Germany delaying our return by several hours.

With each set-back/delay, there was a gospel opportunity. In all seven different people heard the gospel with interest. I felt like I was on a missions trip! There were no gimmicky segues into the gospel in our conversations. But there grew amongst us an expectancy. One of the three in our number is a gifted evangelist and it created a culture of evangelistic expectancy.

I was encouraged that in my going from A to B to serve the Body, I must remember to view everything (even the travel) as potential gospel opportunity. Those things that interrupt me, may be gospel interruptions.

okeechobee

Miles Wide

Last week I traveled to the East Coast as a representative of the Calvary Church Planting Network at a Calvary Chapel Pastor’s Conference in Florida.  In so doing I was honestly amazed by the scope of the Calvary Chapel family of churches.  Walking onto the campus at Calvary Merritt Island was — quite honestly — like walking into a room full of strangers.  Although southern hospitality was truly on display, I [personally] knew only about 6 people at the conference, and 3 of them were representing ministries from my church.  This was a totally foreign experience for me, as every conference I attend on the West Coast is like a family reunion.  In fact, I’d say that the primary reason I attend such conferences is to interact and fellowship with brothers I do not get a chance to see often.  Those are wonderfully refreshing times.  The South East Calvary Chapel Pastor’s Conference was a refreshing time too, but in a different way.

I was genuinely refreshed by the breadth of Calvary Chapel.  There are hundreds and hundreds of Calvary churches throughout the nation (and the world), many, if not most of them are very small community fellowships.  Their pastors are down-to-earth normal guys who stepped into the ministry as unlikely candidates for pastoral work.  Their backgrounds typically have more to do with manual labor than ministry training, but by God’s grace and the work of the His Spirit, these men have become shepherds of God-seekers who are growing in the grace and knowledge of the Lord and Savior.

I was also struck by the importance of reaching out to those who may not know anyone or are significantly disconnected from others, with like DNA, in ministry.  In San Diego County (where I serve as a pastor) there are upwards of 50 Calvary Chapel’s.  Fellowship with others in the work is not just a phone-call away, but a 5 or 10 minute drive away too.

While there I met Pastor Fred, from Calvary Chapel Okeechobee.  He and his wife started the church and when looking for a house in Okeechobee they happened upon an old church with a parsonage that was right in their price range.  So, they bought a home and with it a meeting place for the church that [literally] is their home.  They serve in a community with more cows than people, or so they said.  I’m sure it’s true too.  It’s there on the north shore of Lake Okeechobee — a lake you cannot swim in cause the gators would get you.  I had no idea there was such a place as Okeechobee, or a Calvary there, but there is; and I’m sure there are hundreds of other Okeechobee’s and Pastor Fred’s in Calvary.  They’ll probably never speak at a conference, and probably wouldn’t want to if they were asked asked, but they are faithfully serving and laying down their lives for Christ’s Bride.

For God is not unjust so as to overlook your work and the love that you have shown for his name in serving the saints, as you still do.

– Hebrews 6:10

tsp

You Need a TSP

your pastor left

 

You Need a TSP.

We’re not talking here about Trisodium Phosphate, Telecommunications Service Provider, or a Touch Screen Panel.

We’re actually talking about a Transitional Senior Pastor.

The following article by my friend Dr. Mark Platt has helped shape my ministry with Poimen Ministries (www.poimenministries.com).

Since I left Calvary Chapel Monterey Bay in 2006, I have been directly or partially involved in this sort of role in four different churches. I have discovered that it’s a hugely important and often unrealized ministry that could save the lives of many churches, and propel them on to greater fruitfulness in God’s kingdom. Other men working alongside of me with Poimen Ministries have done the same thing, with the same outcomes. Glory to God!

After my current TSP role is completed in American Canyon, my wife and I remain open to doing it again (and possibly again and again) in years to come. I love the ongoing blessing of seeing these churches grow and do well after I leave. (Finally! We got rid of the bum!” — LOL)

My hope is that the concepts in Mark Platt’s article will spread to many places. The church needs organic leadership like a TSP can provide.

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You Need a TSP!

by Dr. Mark Platt 

A few years ago, I met with the chairman of a church where the long-term pastor had just announced that he was leaving. I began to explain to him how important it would be to hire a TSP (transitional senior pastor). This man who was a very successful businessman interrupted me in about my second sentence.  Confidently, he told me “we got it covered!” As a denominational worker, I thought I should explain the wisdom of a TSP to him so I tried again. But he interrupted me again: “Our church is different. You don’t understand!” As I left, I politely told him that if they needed any help I would be happy to help.

In the months that followed, it became clear that they didn’t have it covered. They tried get a permanent pastor within a month of the long-term pastor’s leaving.  The church voted him down. Then they quickly put one of the associates in as the “interim.”  It turned out that he wanted the job but didn’t have enough votes. Some people wanted him and others didn’t, which divided the church. When the interim was done, the church had lost people, lost money for missionaries, and lost a lot more.

Sadly, many churches think just like this man. They think they can just jam a new pastor in right away. Others think all they need is pulpit supply so they recruit a parade of para-church people, retired pastors, and seminary professors in to preach. Then they put an associate in charge of the staff as the “interim” and share the pastoral duties among the staff. Sometimes churches bring in a person who went to seminary but either has been an unsuccessful pastor or never been a pastor. This can be a disaster as the church declines. Once in awhile, churches get someone who is a stealth candidate who gets the inside track on a job that he should not have. The worst scenario is making one of the associates the TSP because this divides the church or insures that the associate will not be able to stay. While these plans might work occasionally and might save the almighty dollar, they are, at the least, ineffective and at worse, do great damage to churches.

After watching some transition tragedies as well as some glorious successes with TSPs for many years now, I have become convinced that churches need to hire a “transitional senior pastor,” (a TSP). In fact, when God led me to leave my denominational post after twenty-six years, He called me to help churches as a transitional senior pastor. I have seen first-hand how a TSP can greatly help churches in the interim time after a lead pastor leaves and until the new permanent pastor arrives.

I call this the work of a “transitional senior pastor.” I use this term and not the old name “interim” on purpose. I think “interim” connotes someone in-between who hold things together and marks time until a new permanent pastor arrives. After years of watching this from a very close vantage point, I can see how a church can either go through the interim time or they can grow through it. That is the difference between whether a church gets an interim or intentionally chooses to get a TSP.

A TSP has all the authority and responsibilities of a senior pastor: teaching the Bible. persuading people to live God’s way, loving, caring, leading, building unity, serving, helping the church reach out to their community with God’s love, mentoring leaders, guiding staff, diagnosing and treating problems, organizing, and getting a church ready for a new pastor. A TSP is part-foster parent, part-coach, part-teddy bear, part-warrior, part designated hitter, part-peacemaker, part-mentor, and a few more things.

When a senior pastor leaves, every church needs a TSP. I know I sound pretty bold and emphatic about this TSP thing. But I have seen enough to be convinced. When your church is without a pastor, you need a TSP! Here are 10 reasons why:

1. A TSP can be a stabilizing force. When a pastor leaves, some people in a church will see this as the time to go church shopping. Vision is very fragile and can dissipate very quickly in the interim time. A TSP can prevent drift and decline. If there is a parade of pulpit supply and no leader, the church will lose people. Seeing the same face in the pulpit gives continuity and comfort to a congregation. In my denominational work, Pastor Glennon Culwell did 14 TSP assignments for us. Several of these churches told me about the steadiness and stability that this veteran brought to their church. If you pick a good TSP, it will quiet the folks down who want a quick pulpit search and a shotgun wedding so the church can make a prayerful and methodical search that will honor God.

2. A TSP can deal with deferred maintenance. Every pastor has a style and a way of doing things. Pastors only have enough time, energy and political capital to deal with certain things. And just like a typical homeowner, most of us can’t see the things that need to be fixed. A good TSP will have “fresh eyes” to see the things that need to be fixed. The Apostle Paul told a TSP named Titus (1:5): “straighten out what was left unfinished.” If a TSP is doing his job, he can marshal the forces to move and improve the neglected ministries of the church.

3. A TSP can minimize conflict. A vacancy in the office of the senior pastor is one of the times when churches often fall into conflict. Frequently, there has been some element of conflict or disagreement as a pastor leaves. Conflicts often center on music, staff, budget, vision, and other issues. These days there are often diverse theological views in churches. The permanent senior pastor may have been the boy in the dike holding back warring factions. So, when the pastor leaves, these opposing points of view often think it is time to get their way. A transitional senior pastor can be the traffic cop who guides the church through this peril.

4. A TSP can preserve the power of the senior pastor. Whenever a senior pastor leaves, lay people, staff, the church board, and others will instinctively work to fill the void left by the departing pastor. This is very dangerous because these same folks will guard their new turf and can prevent a new permanent pastor from leading. That is why it is important to put a TSP in place almost immediately. A good TSP will keep and strengthen the power of the senior pastor. A good TSP will fill the leadership vacuum until the new pastor arrives. This is vital because strong pastoral leadership is a key element in a church’s health and growth. Proverbs 29:2 says: “When a country is rebellious, it has many rulers, but a man of understanding and knowledge maintains order”.

5. A TSP can get the church acclimated to change. When a pastor leads a church for a long time, a church gets accustomed to doing things the certain way. This can be disastrous because every pastor is different. We want pastors to be themselves and be led of the Holy Spirit. So the job of a TSP is to prepare the church for change by making changes so the new permanent pastor can lead in the way God has wired him. If the TSP has made some changes, the new pastor can make needed changes easier.

6. A TSP can deal with hard and dangerous issues. He can be the one who takes the blame. There might be incompetent or disloyal staff members that need to be dismissed.  Quite often, the former pastor did not have the political capital to deal with who those who need to go. Since the TSP is there for a short time, it gives him the freedom and even courage that the permanent pastor might not have. A good TSP should have a thick enough skin to deal with systemic and persistent issues of the transitional church so the new pastor won’t have to. This is a crucial ministry a TSP can perform.

7. A TSP can help the search committee. Most people on search committees know precious little about how a church grows, how pastors think and lead, or how to conduct a God-honoring pulpit search. In fact, my experience is that most search committee members have never been on a search committee before. A good TSP will be able to guide them with the mechanics and intricacies of a pulpit search. He can point out the dangers and save them from making tragic mistakes. He can show them how to do background research, due diligence, a congregational survey, demographics, and develop a profile of the pastor that might fit. Many TSPs are well-connected to sources of potential candidates in ways that most search committees are not.

8. A TSP can help them in the grieving process. Grief is often the result of the exit of a long-term pastor or an adulterous pastor. It is vital to make time for healing within the congregation and to put the service of the former pastor in perspective. There must be a time of letting go of the former pastor and for discarding old expectations, wounds, patterns, and baggage of the past. Only when the congregation has let go of the former pastor can a new pastor be fully accepted. If this period is rushed or neglected, the new pastor will be viewed as an intruder and an interloper so that the new pastor will not last.

9. A TSP can help the permanent pastor succeed. I will never forget hearing Lyle Schaller speak at a seminar for denominational executives. This wise consultant to churches said: “Churches need to have an intentional interim pastor. If they don’t they will have an unintentional interim pastor (the Biblical term is ‘sacrificial lamb’).” A TSP can be the buffer after a beloved pastor leaves and whose legacy no one can match.  Recently, Chris Collingsworth became the successor to John Madden, the legendary sportscaster who is retiring from Monday Night Football. Collingsworth said something like this: “it’s better to be the person who follows the person who follows the legend, rather than be the person who follows the legend.” A TSP can follow the legend so the new pastor won’t have to and that is critical in the succession process of a church.

10. A TSP can save the church money. I have watched churches try to “go on the cheap” with their transitions and end up paying dearly when 20% or more of their people leave and their tithes with them. Other transition plans may work occasionally and may save a few bucks. But in the long run, not hiring a TSP can be very costly. A veteran TSP can help preserve the church. When Dr. Roy Kraft retired from Twin Lakes Church in Santa Cruz, California after 43 years, he was asked to help Arcade Church in Sacramento in their transition after Dr. Lee Toms retired. Dr. Kraft led Arcade for over a year. This church did well with Pastor Toms but it grew and flourished with Dr. Kraft as the TSP.  New believers and new members who began to support Arcade’s budget were the by-products of his TSP ministry. A good TSP will pay for himself and will help the church honor God!

What should you look for in a TSP? Now, a TSP is not a miracle-worker. He will need your prayers, your support, your alliances, your cooperation, and your willingness to follow his leadership. If you pick a godly and gifted TSP, it will greatly benefit your church in transition. So, pick someone who will not allow himself to be considered for your permanent pastor. Pick a veteran who has been a pastor with distinction. Pick someone who promises to be with your church the entire time until the new pastor arrives. Pick someone who can build on the church’s strengths and fix some of the church’s weaknesses. Pick someone who is seeing his ministry as a calling from God to help church through transitions. If you do these things, I believe God will move your church toward growth and blessing as you honor God.

If I have convinced you that you need a TSP, The Goehner Group is a great resource for finding a good TSP to help your church or para-church organization to navigate through your transition. Call them. My last church used The Goehner Group in their pulpit search with great results and satisfaction. I pray that God will help your church in honoring God in your transition.

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mark-platt-picDr. Mark Platt is a graduate of Lincoln High School in Seattle and Shoreline College. For 26 years, Mark worked for a denomination helping churches grow, pastoring pastors, and leading a new church ministry. Now Mark helps churches in the interim time between permanent pastors. Mark’s passion is honoring God and helping people know Him personally. Mark is a graduate of California State University in Fresno and Bethel Theological Seminary in St. Paul, Minnesota. He earned a Doctor of Ministry from Fuller Theological Seminary in Pasadena. For many years, Mark was an adjunct professor at Western Seminary, Bay Area campus. Mark and Margaret like to travel, hike, and drive the back roads. Margaret teaches high school in Cupertino, California.

Food for Thought

I was flipping through an old book on my bookshelf the other day and stumbled upon this section dealing with maintaining a middle-ground position on divisive theological points.  Personally I appreciate such a humble orthodoxy.

Some people object because they feel that I gloss over certain passages of Scripture, and they’re correct. But glossing over controversial issues is often deliberate because there are usually two sides. And I have found that it’s important not to be divisive and not to allow people to become polarized on issues, because the moment they are polarized, there’s division.

 

A classic example is the problem in our understanding of the Scriptures that refer to the sovereignty of God and the responsibility of man. The Bible actually teaches both, but in our human understanding they’re mutually exclusive. People who become divisive on this issue claim that we can’t believe both, because if you carry the sovereignty of God to an extreme, it eliminates the responsibility of man. Likewise, if you carry the responsibilities of man to the extreme, it eliminates the sovereignty of God. This mistake is made when a person takes the doctrine and carries it out to its logical conclusion. Using human logic and carrying divine sovereignty out to its logical conclusion leaves man with no choices.

 

So, how are we to deal with rightly dividing the Word on the sovereignty of God and the responsibility of man? We need to believe both of them through faith, because I can’t keep them in balance by my understanding. I don’t understand how they come together. But I do believe them both. I believe that God is sovereign, and I also believe that I’m responsible and that God holds me responsible for the choices that I make. I simply trust God that both assertions of Scripture are true.

 

 

Don’t get polarized. Don’t let the people get polarized. The minute you do, you’ve lost half your congregation because people are split pretty evenly on this issue. So if you take a polarized position you’ll lose half of your congregation. Do you really want to lose 50% of your congregation?

 

– Chuck Smith

well

Dig Up the Old Wells

And Isaac dug again the wells of water which they had dug in the days of Abraham his father, for the Philistines had stopped them up after the death of Abraham. He called them by the names which his father had called them. (Genesis 26:18, NKJV)

I am a fan of this passage, and its present application as it pertains to church life. Last week, Jon Langley introduced the question about how to do church. From my perspective, Genesis 26:18 helps greatly in answering the question.

(Note: D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones preached his incredible series on revival based largely upon this text, but that won’t be my subject here. For that treatment, check out the book. It’s called Revival.)

The passage tells about Isaac—young Isaac, inexperienced Isaac. As he began to move about in the land and enjoy/obtain the promised inheritance, he encountered some difficulties with Abimelech, king of the Philistines. In spite of these difficulties, Isaac was blessed and became very prosperous.

Things were going well for him when he came upon some wells that had been dug by his father Abraham. Although these wells had been earthed by the Philistines for some reason, Isaac felt it well worth the time and effort to unearth and re-dig the same wells. Apparently he sensed that these wells were valuable, having been dug by his well-respected father. Not only did he re-dig the wells, he revived their names. He called them exactly what they’d been called when Abraham had named them at first.

The connection between this story and the present day question of how to do church seems obvious to me. The application of this connection may not be so obvious.

If we’re going to do church today we should do it in view of history, in the light of what has been done before. Like Isaac with his father, we should respect the work of those who have gone before, and we should build upon any solid, Christ-centered foundation they have laid.

So how far back do we look?

As far as the church is concerned, we have to go back to her Founder, namely Jesus. Sadly, in far too many places even His well has been covered up. Living water isn’t flowing in such places, to be sure. Jesus is the One who said that He would build His church. Paul later added that no other foundation could be laid than that which has been laid. The foundation is Jesus Himself.

(Pastor, here are questions for you: is the church you are pastoring built upon the Lord Jesus Christ? Do you know Him well? Do the people know Him well? Are the grace and truth of Jesus part of your personal and church DNA? Is the sole aim of the people to follow Him? Is it your sole aim to follow Him? Is He your example for love and grace?)

We must also look back and re-dig the wells of the apostles and prophets. We do this primarily through the study of the NT epistles and the book of Acts. We don’t need to look around today nearly as much as we need to look back. We look back to Romans for soteriology, to Ephesians for ecclesiology, to Colossians for Christology, to James for practical Christian living, to the book of Acts for the pattern of ministry in the power and direction of the Holy Spirit.

Additionally, we look back and re-dig the Christ-centered, apostolic wells that are evident from church history. When we find such wells, we drink deeply and wisely, constantly measuring water quality through the tests of Christocentric and Biblical revelation.

And when we do look around at current methods of doing church, we’re in a constant evaluation mode. Is this thoroughly Biblical? Does it appear in the nature and teaching of Jesus? Is it found as a pattern anywhere in the book of Acts? Is there specific teaching on it in the epistles? Does it square with the two great commandments?

Isaac would have been extremely unwise (and disrespectful) had he decided to just pass by and ignore those old wells. So it will be for us, if we only look around at what others are doing … and fail to look back to what has gone before within the plan and purposes of God.

Normal Church

NORMAL CHURCH: How should the Church ‘do church’?

I have no wisdom to share, no hobby horse to ride, no burning coal of encouragement or rebuke. Rather, I have a question that I admit I have no answer to. This is not a Rob Bell-esque attempt to stir things up by posing a question and pretending I have no opinion on the matter while secretly pursuing an end. I truly want to know more about something, and hope that those who read, comment, and lurk on this blog will jump in and share their Biblically educated thoughts that I may be further enlightened; that we all may.

Does God reveal a specific design in Scripture for what the Church should look like? To this I say “yes”. I actually could write a post on that: the Biblical description of who the Church is, our position, our calling, our purpose. But that’s not the question I’m curious about.

I’m wondering if God reveals specifically how the Church should worship, meet, pray, and go about being and doing those things we know that Scripture calls the Church to be and do. Was it intended to be the same for all time, or to change and adapt? Have we ever done it right? What is “normal church” supposed to be? Are the guidelines loose enough to allow for many different cultural expressions of “doing church”? I hope I haven’t muddied the water in trying to ask the question. Let me get really specific.

It’s clear from the Biblical record of the Acts of the Apostles that the earliest gatherings of the local Church bodies met in homes, open-air locations, and other convenient places held by members of the body of Christ. We see the earliest church praying together daily, and sharing their resources for the common good of the body of Christ. This was in Jerusalem. But we also see small glimpses into the lives of local Church bodies in Antioch, in Asia, in Greece. We see the weekly “love feast”, the sending out of missionaries, the appointing of elders and deacons. The call to teach and shepherd and discipline the Church.

As stated above I don’t have definite answers to all my questions, but from what I have studied it seems that the Church meeting together in “church” buildings didn’t begin until the mid 3rd century. Now it’s considered “normal” and even required by some groups. In fact, when I affiliated as a Calvary Chapel pastor it was a requirement that the local Church body I was pastoring met in an official building of some sort and specifically on Sunday. And yet the Church grew and thrived for over 200 years in homes, open spaces, and other properties they had access to through members of the Body. Was this God’s plan all along? To build up His Church in these places until the day when legal ownership of their own building would be possible, and then that would become the new “normal”?

Was it God’s plan that the individual members of His Body would meet together daily until such a time as they were able to get by with Sunday mornings and maybe a mid-week meeting? Is the bi-weekly meeting God’s plan for the new “normal”?

Was it God’s plan for His Church to share things in common and send aid to other local Church bodies in desperate need until they became big enough to have so many of their own issues that they need only worry about themselves? Was this His design for the new “normal”?

The Church in Jerusalem met daily. The Church in Corinth had love feasts and communion on Sundays. Was it His plan for those things to be temporary until we figured out a better way that would become the new “normal”?

Is our “normal” of today (and the last several centuries) just as flexible as the “normal” recorded in Acts? Or is our normal the end all? How can a pastor or elder have confidence that they are leading His Church in a way that He intended? In other words… how do we KNOW that a Sunday morning service with 30 minutes of singing/music/worship, followed by 30-60 minutes of expositional teaching, the collection of offerings, announcements, and maybe a potluck is how God truly intends for His Church to accomplish the mission of making disciples throughout the world? Or is it simply one of many ways?

Please don’t turn on the assumption afterburners and think that because I’m asking the questions I’m against these things or being contrary for the sake of stirring up conversation. I’m not entertaining some kind of dangerous doubt, or loosing the faith. If we can’t question and reaffirm why we do what we do in the name of Christ then we have no business claiming to do it in His name!

So, are these things done the way that we do them because God revealed that His Church should do them thusly? Or are they our interpretations of BIble and history and custom, tailored over time, institutionalised, and made comfortable via the vehicle of cultural adaptation?

If God never intended for there to be a specific Biblically mandated liturgy (beyond baptism and communion and the making of disciples throughout the world), then I’m okay with that. In fact it’s quite freeing to know that we can truly be lead by the Spirit within the bounds of common sense, cultural compatibility, and Biblical principles to carry out the work and ministry of the local Church body in the way He leads.

But if God gave us a specific design then what is it? If it’s what we see in the early church, then where in Scripture is it taught and why don’t we still do it that way? Why would a movement that typically decries the influence of Constantine’s legalisation of the Christian faith as “marriage to the world” then also cling to one of the chief results: the Church owning property and meeting in official buildings of worship rather than believers’ homes and other properties and open spaces in the community? Why was communalism okay then, but so heavily guarded against, and even sneered at now? Why was daily prayer and worship normal then, but beyond even the ability to imagine now (because people are busy with “their own lives”)?

If it’s what we see in the “normal” of today then where in Scripture is it taught and why didn’t the early church figure it out?

Or is it that those things were never normal and we’ve just misunderstood the record?

Or maybe they truly weren’t intended to remain “normal”, and the bi-weekly meetings of busy Body members with little to no real knowledge of each other and love of one another was always God’s goal? (Okay, I admit that one was opinion and a bit of bitterness masked in the facade of a question).

The thing is, it’s not normal in other places I’ve lived and spent time in. It’s not normal in many places I’ve heard from others about. What should the daily life and liturgy of the Church look like? Who got it right? The early Church? The African Church? The Indian Church? The Western Church? The Catholic Church? The Orthodox Church? The Chinese underground Church? Or is there a “normal” or “right” way at all, other than just doing what is truly Spirit lead and best for the Body of Christ in each local Church body?

I know… lots of questions. Let’s here some of your answers. I’m really very curious and hope that many comment and share what they’ve learned from Scripture, prayer, research, and experience.

Thanks!

copy

A Lifeless Copy

This past Sunday, there was a new church plant launched here in London. They are called The Sunday Assembly. They gather on Sunday mornings to hear announcements, sing, hear readings, and hear a sermon. This sounds fairly normal, but this church is an atheist church. The sermon is given by a stand-up comedian, not a pastor. The-Nave The goal of the gathering is to create a community built around like-minded people being kind towards and helping one another. The space where they are meeting is even an old church (left). So what makes a church?

  • Do they have a building?  
  • Do they meet on Sundays?
  • Is there a sermon?* 
  • Is there singing?
  • Do they have leaders?
  • Do the people having something in common?

The Bible defines the church as a New Humanity. People who were spiritually dead and have been made alive by the Holy Spirit who share life together, giving of each other in joyful sacrifice for the glory of God. It is a community that worships Christ. Our goodness as Christians doesn’t spring forth from our desire to do good, because even our good desires are often tainted by selfish ambitions. Rather, the true church responds to God’s life-imparting grace. His goodness works through the lives of his people. The community we have as the church is the partnership (koinonia) of the Holy Spirit. The Living God himself, indwells us and expresses his character through us towards one another. Christian community is a manifestation of God as we are a dwelling place of God in the Spirit (Eph 2:22). So often as churches, we can allow our focus to fall on that which even an atheist can replicate (mere forms and symbols without the life-blood and purpose of them). But what truly makes us distinct is that we are a redeemed community who respond to the work of God in our lives through the means of God’s Word, God’s people, service, evangelism, and prayer (On that note, it is interesting that an atheist church cannot incorporate prayer into their church service).

This is a good reminder for us as pastors to emphasize those things that are distinctly Christian in our churches. That distinction is the life that flows from the Son. Without the life of Christ, all that can be had is a form of godliness, rejecting its power (2 Tim 3:5).

*Another worthwhile topic would be ‘what makes a sermon a sermon?’. Is it simply giving a ‘talk’ (a term many Brits use), or is it prophetically speaking forth the oracles of God’s life-giving word?