Sunday, May 28, 2017

Church Leaders: Don't Lead Your Children AWAY From Church!

One congregation I served had several elders.  By all appearances they were good, solid leaders.  Each had their own gifts and emphases in their ministries.  They were faithful in their attendance and support of the work of the congregation.  They were upstanding, godly individuals in their own right, and good examples to the flock.  But sadly, each of these men had kids who had fallen away from Church and didn't attend anywhere.  Some left for denominational congregations.  The only time you saw some of them is when they came home for vacation and dropped in to their former church to be with their parents, or for a special Christmas service, etc.  For some of these children of leaders, who are now adults themselves,  it was the only time they 'darkened the church door.'  That is pretty sad.  How could men who were so effective, so seemingly spiritual, so 'involved' in the work of the church have kids who would drop out and have such negative feelings about the church in which they were raised?

Being good ambassadors for the church is a very important task, and many are careful how they present themselves and represent the church when they are out in public, at the job, or in the community.  They model that phrase, "You never get a second chance to make a good first impression."  And that is commendable.  But how about the impression we give to our family when we are home, out of the 'public eye,' and we let down our guard about "how we really feel"?

Children have a remarkable way of imitating their parents.  Their values will become the child's values.  We used to have those old schoolyard arguments of "Chevy is best because my old man drives a chevy!"  Or, this candidate is the best because that's who my parents like.  Children will naturally trust the wisdom and the "likes" of their parents, and so they are likely to become the Child's values and priorities.  Thus we might think their kids would naturally want to attend Church, and be active there because mom & dad attend and are so active there.  But oftentimes it doesn't work out that way.  

Christian leaders need to beware of airing the dirty church laundry at home.  When they hear a constant stream of which people are lazy; which people don't give, attend, or serve; or that other leaders are stupid; or that a decision was made that made them really upset; it has a cumulative effect.  Children may start thinking that even though Dad wants to be a leader (or maybe he really doesn't if he's honest with himself), that they certainly don't want to get involved in that mess, and there's really not much reason to stay.  The stream of negativity may be an unspoken message to children that church is really not a great place to be.  They start 'connecting the dots' for themselves and they check out mentally, physically, and spiritually.  

Oddly enough, that was a reason I regularly heard from men in the congregation who steadfastly refused to get involved in any official church office.  They were perfectly glad to volunteer, show up to do some particular task, but they avoided the "office" because they did not want to (a) go to meetings where there was so much conflict and lack of unity; and (b) get caught up in the politics of the church.  They were perfectly content to serve without a title.  I think they heard way too much that was critical of other leaders or members.  They decided they wanted nothing to do with that leader with a dominant personality, who had the "my way or no way" mentality.  And some of the leaders' wives had very sharp tongues and wielded great influence upon their husbands' decisions, as well as flaunted their own status(?) to members of the congregation.

Christian leaders need to pay careful attention to how they speak about the Church, how they speak about fellow Christians, and how they present the work they are called to do.  This is especially true at home in front of our children.  I often preached that when we speak of the Church to the unsaved we don't air all the dirty laundry, and share the "dirt" that we know about folks who worship there.  We don't speak evil about the preacher, other leaders, or members of the congregation.  Instead I urged that we become 'cheerleaders' for the work the Lord is doing in our congregation.  The good we share, the bad we don't!  If I worked for any business and made regular comments about how bad it was, how rotten the other employees were, or how untrustworthy the supervisors were, I probably wouldn't have that job very long, and I wouldn't attract many to want to do business there either.  Are we attracting our kids or unconsciously pushing them away?  We bear some of the responsibility for when our grown children have no interest in attending or being involved in Church work.

By the way, ALL Christian parents should be aware of what they say about the Church and other Christians in front of their children!  Yet for leaders, who by virtue of the job they do have greater awareness of what is going on - both the good as well as the bad - they need to be especially careful what they are communicating to their children.  And many times communication is non-verbal!  Children will hear and understand, and have their own decisions shaped on the basis on what they glean from dad and mom.

And now a special word to preachers and their wives:  All this applies to you as well!  When your kids hear how badly dad is treated; how poorly and unfairly they are paid;  how other jobs would be so much more beneficial; how people are so mean to them; and the list goes on, why would you think that your children would want to hang around for that kind of lifestyle!  Resentment and bitterness might be the sad fruit that constant angry complaints by the preacher can cultivate in their own children.  The preacher probably loves the ministry, but they may be preaching misery to their kids!  Big mistake!  Some wise discretion needs to be exercised when talking about the church, and the way issues are spoken about to your children.  

May the Lord bless those Godly leaders who are great examples at home, and whose children grow up to be fine leaders and servants in their own right.  Of course it is also recognized that there are great leaders who are also great parents that have children who exercise their own free will and choose an unfortunate course for themselves.  My plea is for Christian leaders to pay attention to both the impression they give as well as the words they use about the Church to their children.  Lead them to want to be involved and serve the Lord.  Do not push your children away with the negativity and problems you may face on a daily basis in your service.

C'mon, Murphy.  Let's go outside!

Monday, December 12, 2016

Will Your Building Pass Inspection?

I enjoy watching some of the shows on HGTV, especially the ones where they go in and renovate homes.  Sometimes they’ll discover things which leads the host to wonder what the original builders were thinking, or how the home ever passed inspection.  They might point out problems in the roof where the weight load is too great for the support beams, and I recall one home where the roof was not even secured to what little support it had!  Others home issues show cracks in the foundation, which if not fixed could potentially lead to collapse.  It makes me appreciate those who have the skill of designing and building a safe, long-lasting home, as well as those who can repair the ones which are not.

It seems a lot of builders want to take short-cuts.  Perhaps they don’t really have the skills they claim to have, but often times it seems they are trying to cut corners in order to save money by using inferior materials and increase their profits.  Many problems are temporarily hid because they are behind the drywall or up in the attic where they can remain unnoticed.  That is, until there is a problem.  And then the repairs can be costly, or even lead a place to be condemned.

Every now and then you hear of asbestos being discovered and having to be removed under very tight guidelines.  The “Chinese Drywall” scandal is another example of unsafe products being used making people sick.  These are a couple examples where the right building materials, and the right builder, make all the difference.

Scripture makes occasional use of building metaphors.  Paul refers to himself as a “wise, master builder” in 1 Cor. 3:10  He devotes a few verses in 1 Cor. 3 to talk about materials that a builder might choose to use as he continues to build upon the foundation.  He names gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, and straw (1 Cor. 3:12).  It’s easy to figure out what you’d want your home made out of, and what wouldn’t last very long in a fire!  Jesus also talks about the importance of the right foundation in the Sermon on the Mount (Mt. 7:24-27).  It is so well known that a Sunday School song was made complete with motions about the ‘wise man’ and the ‘foolish man’ and what happens when the rains come down and the floods come up.  I always liked the part where the house on the sand went SPLAT!

The firm foundation upon which the Church and our faith is built is, of course, the truth of Jesus Christ, and His death for our sins, and resurrection from the grave (see 1 Cor. 15:3-5).  This is the good news of our salvation.  I don’t think many Christians would argue against Christ being the cornerstone.  Peter certainly identifies Jesus as “a precious corner stone” (see 1 Peter 2:6, 7).  Sound biblical preaching continues building on that firm foundation as revealed in God’s Word. 

There are homes that may have a good foundation, but the other materials that the builder choose are something less than the best!  They might not be strong enough, they might have defects, they might be hazardous, or lead to the collapse of the structure in a number of different ways. Or perhaps his skills as a builder are lacking and he doesn’t know how to proceed, or how to use whatever building materials he selects.  The wise builder will choose the best materials which will lead to a successful, long-lasting structure.

J. W. McGarvey in his commentary on 1 Corinthians 3 notes, “In Corinth Paul had preached Christ as the foundation of the church and of each individual Christian, and this foundation admitted no mixture of philosophy and no perversion which would produce sects (Gal. 1:9) (First Epistle to the Corinthians, 64).  So how important is the doctrinal position of the builder to the growth and success of the Church?  Mare says, “As an expert builder… one who knew God’s plan for the building of his church (Eph. 3:7-10), [Paul] had laid the doctrinal foundation of ‘Jesus Christ and him crucified.’  He goes on to note that future builders  “must be careful how he builds” (EBC vol. 10, 207).

Have you ever come across the remnants of a home or other building that is long gone, but the foundation is still there? There may be some stones, or concrete blocks in the ground, but the roof, walls, and the rest of the structure are long gone.  You wonder if a tornado came through and obliterated it.   Perhaps a fire razed everything it could except for the stones.  Maybe just the passing of many years deteriorated what was once a good structure, and now only the foundation remains.  It sort of makes you wonder what the place used to look like, or perhaps you became curious about what the builder used that didn’t seem to last too long.

Church leaders must be ever diligent to make sure that the ones who are building on the foundation of Christ know what they’re doing!  They must also make sure that the materials which are used to build on that foundation are the best ones possible, and can withstand the pressures which will no doubt come.  I’m aware of one minister who in his desire to see the church grow decided it would be a good thing to bring in another staff member from the denominational world.  The candidate for the position has expressed a belief in tongue speaking [ecstatic prayer language], some elements of Calvinism,  a faith-only approach, and is currently  working under a female Methodist pastor.  What could possibly go wrong with that hire?  Disagreements could most certainly arise between this person and the leadership, and perhaps even worse, divide the congregation wondering who is right, or if it really even makes any difference at all?  Confusion and in-fighting could certainly derail plans for future growth. 

McGarvey’s comments quoted above seem very timely here.  There should be no mixture of philosophy, or admittance of doctrinal error which would produce divisions.  The goal of congregational unity could be quickly lost, the “building” destroyed, leaving only the unchanging and everlasting foundation behind.  This should lead us to carefully examine whether we’re building with gold or straw!  What’s going to last and best complement the foundation?

As soon as you put the title of “minister” on someone, or put them up in front of the congregation, or pay them to be there in that ministerial capacity, you are declaring that person to be one who is worthy of being heard and followed.  But what if they aren’t?  The congregation, trusting in the spiritual wisdom of their leaders, will assume that this guy is “ok.”  In John 10 Jesus spoke of the shepherd knowing the sheep by name (vs. 3) and other the things the “Good” Shepherd does for His sheep.  But it also mentioned the strangers (vs. 5), thieves and robbers (vss. 8-10), and the hirelings (vs. 12).  Leaders must be perpetually on guard for the flock, to protect them from the wolves that are no doubt still out there (Acts 20:29, 30).

Every Biblical leader must have the goal of seeing the church grow.  That’s not really the argument here.  The question is “how” is growth to be achieved.  Another way of approaching it would be “do the ends justify the means”?  Actually, would the means necessarily even get you to the end (goal) of growth?  As the little poem I learned long ago, and still frequently quote says, “Methods are many, principles are few.  Methods always change, principles never do.”

Paul’s teaching about the builder, and the building materials in 1 Cor. 3:10-15 offer much helpful instruction about the foundation upon which builders (church leaders) must continue to build.  It illustrates the kinds of materials one can use on that foundation.  What would you rather live in, a house made of gold or a little straw hut?  But the passage concludes with the inspection that comes at judgment.  The quality of that building is going to be evaluated and tested (judged).  The truth of Jesus is not going to change.  The foundation is everlasting.  But what about the local place where this present generation of builders labor?  Will the building be strong and enduring, or will it collapse because it was built with the straw of false doctrine, and a desire to have numbers over a spiritually solid congregation?

Church builders should faithfully labor, with the sincere goal that their work will remain (1 Cor. 3:14).  Their aim is that they will leave something for the next generation to continue building upon when their time comes to step up to leadership.  And Paul says that there will even be a reward for such a wise builder!  BONUS!

Many years ago I heard someone tell of the funeral message he heard for a faithful preacher who had gone to be with Jesus.  It was said of him that he was constantly “sending lumber to heaven.”  I assume he meant that he had a faithful ministry which produced results that have an eternal significance for many.  How sad it would be to look back and to say I have nothing to show for my ministry, there’s nothing really left of it.  Paul spoke of this builder as well when he said “If any man’s work is burned up, he shall suffer loss, but he himself shall be saved, yet so as through fire” (1 Cor. 3:15).  It appears he is saved, but with nothing to show for his service.  That is indeed a very sad assessment.

We had some new windows put in our house recently.  Part of the price we paid was for the inspection.  The contractor even said we couldn’t take the stickers off the window until the inspector signed off on it.  The job was completed and the inspector came and looked around.  He signed off on the paperwork and I suppose that means we have good windows, properly installed, and ones that will hold up well through the years.

Let us endeavor to be wise in our building choices while serving the Lord.  The “plan” is laid out in Scripture.  We know what and Who the Foundation is.  Build smartly with the best possible materials at our disposal.  Our inspection day is coming as well.  Let’s endeavor to hear that what we did was “well done.”

C’mon, Murphy.  Let’s go outside!

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

They Said WHAT at the Funeral?

Decades ago, Art Linkletter had a book called, "Kids Say the Darndest Things."  A child's innocence can lead them to remove all the filters and say the first thing - or the worst thing - that comes across their minds.  I heard recently that Jimmy Kimmel had a segment where he "interviewed" some children, and one child expressed an idea that we should kill everyone in China.  Apparently some Chinese people took exception to that!  Most of us as adults can relate to that unguarded moment when we said something and immediately wish we hadn't uttered it. Perhaps that is why James reminds us how difficult it is to control our tongues (but what a good idea it is to try!)

Apparently, funerals can cause the same type of reaction!  Emotions are high, and sometimes they overrule common sense.   I won't say that "I've heard everything," but I will say I've heard some pretty crazy things.  Sometimes I'll hear some things that make me think, and others that make me sad.  Today's blog will share a few of those highlights with you.

Several years back my wife's father passed away.  I had only known him for a couple years, yet I knew that he was a kind and gentle man, a loving husband and father.  It was an emotional time and a little difficult to put together a service for him but I did the best I could.  I really wanted to do a good job for my new family, most of whom I barely knew at all.   After the service many people said kind and complimentary things about what I had shared.  The most memorable compliment came from someone I had never met before, a friend of the family.  He came up to me, slapped me on the back and said, "Hell of a job, Rev.  Hell of a job!!"  It was one of those moments where I knew what I just heard, but I didn't really hear that, did I?  What do you say to that?  What is the proper response to the compliment of a lifetime??  My ears didn't melt, I've heard that term before.  Yet I was really not expecting to be told I did a hell of a job right outside the church, after I preached a sermon.  So I stood there, probably with a dumbfounded look on my face, trying to think of what I could say.  Somehow I didn't think that replying with, "Damn straight, buddy" was the right response!  I think I just muttered, "thanks," and quickly left to find my wife!

Then there are those very well-intentioned comments, that you know come out of genuine appreciation and respect.  Lately I've been getting a lot of, "I want you to do my funeral too." I'm glad that people find comfort from God's Word in what I have to say in a funeral message.  Preachers always say that the funeral is not for the dead but for the living.  It's good to know you can reflect and share God's peace and hope with others.  But I still don't know what to say when someone seems eager for me to do their funeral!  So far I've not found the perfect response to that.  Here are ones I've tried:  "Thanks! I can fit you in this Thursday."  That didn't work out too well.  Then another time I said, "That's great!  I'm looking forward to doing your funeral too."  For some odd reason that didn't seem to get a good response.  I'm still working on that one.  I usually try to go with, "That's very kind, but let's see if we can wait on that for another 10-20 years or so!"

Then there are those times when people tell me that their loved one isn't suffering any more.  They are no longer in pain, cancer is no longer ravaging their bodies, and things of that nature.  In one way I suppose that's true.  But so often I have done funerals for those who were not Christians, did not have any relationship with Jesus, and had never come to the point where they put their faith in Him and had their sins forgiven.  I have a hard time finding the words to say to the one grieving who is confident that their loved one is no longer suffering.

Let me hasten to say that I know I'm not the judge - and for that I'm incredibly grateful.  I remember that Paul said, "For what have I to do with judging outsiders... but those who are outside, God judges" (1 Cor. 5:12, 13).  God will do what is right and His disposition of the eternal state of the dead is entirely His job, not mine.  Again, no argument from me.

Yet, hell is real.  It is described as a place of torment and suffering.  Jesus told us that in this place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.  Christ said that in hell there is "unquenchable fire" (Mk. 9:43).  Peter tells us that in hell there are pits of darkness (2 Peter 2:4).  Jude echoes those thoughts in vs. 6, 7.  And Paul tells us in stark, no uncertain terms that at the second coming Jesus will be "dealing out retribution to those who do not know God and to those who do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus.  And these will pay the penalty of eternal destruction, away from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of His power" (2 Thess. 1:8, 9).

So when a loved one through many tears tells me that their loved one is not suffering any more, or phrases closely related to that one, "has gone to a better place" I can only try to share God's message of hope FOR THEM, knowing that they will give an account for their lives, even as their loved one must give an account for his life.  There is no doubt that God's love is for all the world, and that Christ died for everyone, and that God's grace is probably bigger than we can imagine.  But it is also true that  God hates sin.  And it is no doubt true that "if anyone's name was not found written in the book of life, he was thrown into the lake of fire" (Rev. 20:15).

Very early in my years of ministry I was asked by an elder of the congregation where I preached to go and visit his neighbor.   They had been friends for a long time and now he was dying of cancer.  My elder friend told me that he never went to church but that he was a good man.  From that time on if I heard that this guy was a "good man" once I know I heard it 100 times!  So I went to visit him, and sat with him a number of times.  I heard how he was successful in his business and admired by his co-workers.  I learned how active he was with his kids, going on campouts, watching them in their sports.  No doubt he was a loving husband, faithful to his wife for many years.  I guess after all those visits that I too would agree that he was a good man.  But of all the things he was, one thing he was not.  And that was a Christian.  Any time in my visits where I would attempt to talk about Christ, forgiveness, eternal hope, etc. I was politely shut down, and the conversation would then go back to kids, jobs, sports, etc.  I recall that the best he could give me on a spiritual level was something to the effect that he had "worked it out with God."  What does that phrase mean?  The cancer eventually took his life.

At the visitation and the day of the funeral most every family member sought to comfort one another that he was no longer suffering, in a better place, and other similar sentiments.  As I was new in ministry, doing funerals was much more difficult.  I liked this guy, and that added some pressure as well.  Many from the church where I served were there, and I figured I better do a good job.  Knowing what to say at that funeral was a challenge.  Honestly,  I saw no biblical hope for this man's salvation, and yet I remembered that judging was God's job, not mine.  I saw family members who were content to live like he had lived - a life outside of Christ, and I was concerned for them.  For some reason, perhaps being led by the Holy Spirit - my mind kept going to Luke 16 and Jesus' teaching on "The rich man and Lazarus."  I remembered the rich man in torment and his requests.  He first asked for just a drop of water on his tongue - and was refused.  Then he asked for Lazarus to go back to his brothers - to warn them about this place, that they may change their ways before it was too late.  Again, his request was denied, and was told that his brothers had Moses and the prophets (Lk. 16:29) and should listen to them!

So I said somewhere in that funeral message, "I don't know where Bill is today, but of one thing I'm certain.  He would want his family members in heaven.  He would want his wife, children, and grandchildren to know Jesus as their Lord and Savior...."  I did my best to offer the hope of heaven to those who remained.  Perhaps I planted some seeds that day that took some root and were used by God to produce fruit.

Who knows what I'll hear at the next funeral.  Maybe it will make me smile, or maybe cause me to cringe just a bit.  Hopefully, I'll still be pointing people to Jesus who will raise us from the dead one day, and share with us the glories of heaven!

Come on, Murphy.  Let's go outside!

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

The Shepherd's Mission

Did you scratch your head, laugh out loud, cringe a little bit, or have some other reaction of unbelief when you heard that NASA’s new mission had been changed to  Muslim Outreach?  Back on July 14, 2010 NASA Chief Charlie Bolden said that one of NASA’s foremost tasks is to engage with Muslim nations.  And here I thought it was about satellites, man on the moon, an International Space Station, and future missions to Mars!  How and why did the mission of America’s space program turn to appeasing our enemies?  If Muslim engagement is the goal, I don’t have much interest in what NASA may be doing in the future!

            The Mission of any organization is more than verbage on official documents.  It defines who they are and what they intend to do!  Goals, objectives, strategies are developed and employed to help the organization achieve its mission.  Constituencies are developed that “buy into” or commit to the success of that organization.  The investors have a stake in the success of the enterprise and demand that the leaders and employees act in such a way as to bring success and growth.  The market will influence and occasionally dictate the success or failure of an organization.  It is naturally expected that the mission will be of primary importance to any business or organization.

            Some have defined the church as an “organization.”  The Scriptures emphasize again and again the mission of the church.  I heard Wayne Smith preach one time that the church has three reasons to exist:  “(1) Seek and save the lost; (2) Edify the saints; and (3) Be the conscience of the community.”  That is a pretty good summary of the mission of the church.  That is what we are about, and that is what we are supposed to be doing.

            Yet we’ve seen striking examples of churches that have changed that mission.  Some care more about status in the community, large buildings, ‘movers and shakers’ in the community, etc. than evangelism.  Some have replaced the “organizational documents,” i.e. the Scriptures with the traditions of men and the tickling of ears.  Some have set aside sound doctrine to pay attention to the doctrine of demons.  Others struggle with keeping their doors open, their biggest goal is having church next Sunday, without ever really knowing or caring WHY they are having church next Sunday!

            As good leaders are essential to the success of a business and achieving desired outcomes, the same is true in the church!  Leadership is essential.  Elmer Towns once said, “The church has only one problem.  It has a LEADERSHIP problem!”  I believe he is correct.  Good leaders keep the church focused on achieving the mission.  How important it is that leaders in the church – Evangelists, pastors [Elders] and teachers (see Eph. 4:11-13) be committed to protecting and fulfilling the mission of the church.

            The shepherd had a mission:  The sheep!  Know the sheep, lead them, feed them, and defend them pretty much summed it up!  Jesus uses that as an illustration in John 10.  The 23rd Psalm presents the shepherd’s job in similar terms as well.   The shepherd invested his time, his toil, and if called upon his very life for the well-being of the sheep.  That was his mission!   Jesus wants His sheep to have life and have it abundantly (Jn. 10:10).   But He went on to talk about thieves and robbers who came in, interested only in their own profit to the detriment of the sheep.  You could say they had ‘control’ of the sheep, but failed in their mission!  They didn’t care about the outcome of the sheep, losing them to the wolves because they were “hirelings, and … not concerned about the sheep” (Jn. 10:13).

            A good shepherd or a hireling, who do we want to be overseers of the mission?  Do we want someone committed to the sheep, or someone who doesn’t really care about them, only his own skin?  To ask the question is indeed to answer it.  But further questions need to be asked, and more careful scrutiny of our leaders must take place.

            We are seeing churches sprout up with great fervor and excitement, who have no concept about the original mission of the church, or even a biblical model of good care provided for the sheep.  The style of Sunday worship is exciting enough, but little or no opportunity for growth or discipleship is taking place.  We see parachurch organizations that have changed their mission to something mostly unrecognizable from their original founding.  Bible Colleges which once came into existence for the expressed purpose of training preachers [original mission] now desire to train nurses, public school teachers, and a host of other positions [new and improved mission].

            When the ‘institution’ becomes an overriding concern to the leaders rather than the ‘mission,’ it’s time to rethink who we install and support as leaders.  The principles of John 10 come to mind.  Perhaps Christians have adopted so many worldly markers of success in a business sense that they have unknowingly short-changed God’s standards of leadership qualifications. 

            I remember back in the early 80’s watching a number of Bible Colleges going through the “we need a businessman as president” mentality.  Not surprisingly, most didn’t last long in the job.  Some things just didn’t translate over too well from the business model of success to the Scriptural model of success as far as the mission was concerned!  Over the last decade the mentality has been “we need to become like the state universities in order to remain viable”!  When the mission changes, the results are going to change with them!

            The shepherd may well present the best possible illustration of faithfulness to the mission.  If the shepherd isn’t committed to the mission, the sheep get eaten by wolves!  Sheep don’t fare too well without leaders committed to their care.  Elders in the church, or trustees in a parachurch organization absolutely must know the mission and be committed to the mission.  Temptation to change the mission (and realize I’m not talking about METHODS here) is an invitation to thieves, robbers, and wolves, and a pretty bad outcome all the way around.  Jesus clearly identifies Himself as the Good Shepherd in John 10.  Peter uses this illustration in 1 Peter 5 as well.  He calls Jesus the Chief Shepherd and admonishes the elders reading his epistle to “shepherd the flock of God among you, not under compulsion, but voluntarily, according to the will of God… proving to be examples to the flock” (cf. 1 Peter 5:1-4).

            I am a firm believer in the truth of “Methods are many, principles are few.  Methods always change, principles never do.”  We do the Lord’s work a great disservice when we think our mission trumps His!  We do harm to God’s people when we think we can improve upon the mission, update it, modernize it, etc.!  We subject the Lord’s sheep to grave danger when we allow shepherds to come in to the flock who either don’t know or “don’t get” the mission!  Christian leaders must be committed first to Christ and His mission.  They must properly teach that mission in the church.  They need to stand ready to refute those who would bring in false teaching, thus changing the mission.  Call them Shepherds or Elders, they must be sound in their faith, able to teach, and ready to call out those who would change the direction of the Lord’s Church.

Let’s reemphasize the mission of the church and hold leaders accountable for maintaining the integrity of the mission.

C’mon, Murphy, let’s go outside!

Friday, May 25, 2012

Restoration Education: Beware!

History is a great teacher.  Often dismissed as dry as dust and something to be ignored, it still has much to say about our present and our future.

Training a faithful ministry is of critical importance to me.  Not only as my 'profession,' but now even more so as I want my children and grandchildren, and their children to hear the truth of God's Word proclaimed.  My interest in this subject did not begin with a blog written months ago or its subsequent publishing in the May 2012 Restoration Herald.

Now my thoughts have turned to reviewing the historical perspective of higher Christian education in the Restoration  Movement.  I'm convinced as I read some of the literature that we are witnessing the very same things as our Restoration forefathers experienced.  I'm going to share a few of these highlights in this blog.  I could wish I had a wider audience, but perhaps it will circulate beyond a few, and cause many to ask similar questions, and motivate them to take action to stem the tide of liberalism in once faithful Restoration schools.

Let me at the outset give credit to the classic Restoration History textbook, Christians Only by James D. Murch (Cincinnati, Standard Publishing, 1962).  I've been glad to dust this old book off and read anew his history and assessment of the Movement.

Bethany College was chartered in 1840, welcoming the first students on Oct. 21, 1841. (145)  The first commencement was held on July 4, 1843. (146)  Listen to Murch's assessment of the quality and impact of those early graduates:

Soon a steady stream of well-equipped ministers of the gospel was flowing out to give leadership to the churches from coast to coast.  These men reflected a methodology in preaching that was peculiar to Bethany.  They carried their Bibles with them and their great familiarity with the passages pertaining to salvation and the pattern of the New Testament church amazed their listeners.  The gospel which they preached was characterized by simplicity.  All abstruse and metaphysical theology was put aside and "Christ and him crucified" was exalted in every sermon....  If a "thus saith the Lord" could not be produced for the preacher's teaching, it was forthwith rejected by the elders and the people who came to the services with their Bibles and "thumbed the references" to "see if these things were so."  People from the community marveled, and said, "We never heard so much Scripture in sermons anywhere." (146)
 Something strikes me about the dates.  History is going to teach us something!  Bethany College first received students in 1841.  By the early 1900's the Liberals were already attacking and taking over many schools.  By 1912 formerly stalwart schools were turned liberal by "higher education."  J. W. McGarvey, president of College of the Bible in Lexington, KY died in 1911.  Murch sadly notes what happened to that school upon McGarvey's death:
The liberal strategy at Lexington was exactly the same as that used by educators in all Protestant denominations.  They insisted that the educational standing of the College needed to be improved.  There were too many students who had received improper preparatory training.  Some men were beyond the 'teaching age.'  Teaching methods in use were obsolete.  Professors were needed who could lecture and conduct 'cooperative' inquiry between student and teacher, with much reading and broad research on 'all sides of a question.'  There ought to be much freedom of discussion (as if there had never been any) and stimulation of students to come to "their own conclusions."  Motive and viewpoint in studying the Bible had changed, and the "new approach" was essential if the school was not to be "typed" and ostracized by the accrediting agencies.... (242)

 Yogi Berra was right.  This is Deja Vu all over again!  These early schools went from training faithful preachers to worrying over what the accrediting agencies would say!  Think of other schools that began in the 1940's who in 2012 are now concerned more with secular standards and requirements than training a faithful Gospel ministry.  In 1919 the Christian Standard called out the Liberal strategy.  It noted, "Instead of forming a training force sufficient for a great Bible ministry, our colleges are too largely spending their energies in feeble rivalry of State institutions, under secular and not under Scriptural, standards of efficiency." (247)  Schools once "set for the defense of the Gospel" are now seeking mainstream secular acceptance, acquiescing to worldly academic standards, relegating Bible education to a place of lesser prominence.

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Methods and Motives of Ministry

Occasionally I’ll hear of something innovative being done by a church somewhere and think “that’s a great idea. Wish I had thought of that.”  Many times I’ll hear of something innovative and think “that’s about the dumbest thing I’ve ever heard!” 

The Rogue’s Gallery of “Preachers in it for the money” is a lengthy one.  It’s easy to talk about the Televangelists who plead for money for Jesus’ work and then you hear of their fleet of luxury cars, and the infamous “Air conditioned dog houses.”  I often say that my dog Murphy has an air conditioned house too.  She just agrees to share it with Mary and me!  Because of the excesses of some preachers my dad never had a very high view of preachers.  On more than one occasion he referred to preachers as “leachers and stealers”!  Nice.

We often condemn those who are in it “just for the money.”  We become suspicious of those whose methods are different or new.  We tend to view ourselves as defenders of the true faith, and distrust those things which we’ve not done before.  I’m currently shaking my head at the trend to provide first class coffee & bagel service to those who come through the church doors.  I picture the list of staff in the bulletin like this: Lead Pastor, Youth Pastor, Barista {pastor of all things breakfast?}, and Secretary.  Yet though I may shake my head at the method, when it comes right down to it, it may not be my method, but is there really anything wrong with it?  Probably not.  I should probably just keep my mouth shut and enjoy the bagel (yours truly has never learned how to drink coffee!)

We want to be righteously indignant at those who preach with less than pure motives.  So we decry the extravagant lifestyles of some preachers, or those we dislike, or the ones that seem to do things that just irritate us.  We might search the Scriptures to find something that supports our disdain for whatever new method someone is trying.  Usually, however, Scripture remains silent on the methods.  So to bring up 1 Cor. 11:22 which speaks of having homes to eat and drink, in an effort to shut down the bagel bar, is probably a gross misuse of Scripture.   It offends me more to be out of context and abuse the Scripture than it does to rail against some method that seems questionable to me.

I did find a passage that speaks to those who are ministering with impure motives.  Not surprisingly, it comes from the pen of the apostle Paul.  Paul was compelled to preach Christ.  He often preached without pay.  He worked his “tent making” trade to support himself so he would not be a burden to others.  Surely this self-sacrificing apostle would have something  hard-hitting to say about those who were in it ‘just for the money,’ or the ones who just wanted a big following.  And indeed he did.

Paul writes to the Philippians and says, “Some, to be sure, are preaching Christ even from envy and strife, but some also from good will… the former proclaim Christ out of selfish ambition, rather than from pure motives, thinking to cause me distress in my imprisonment” (Phil. 1:15, 17 NASB).  You might expect that Paul is just about ready to lay into these teachers who just want the money, or who just want to be popular.”  One might smile and think, “Go get ‘em, Paul!”

But he doesn’t!  He doesn’t say anything about making them stop, or kicking them out of the church, or really any kind of “discipline” for them whatsoever.  Surprisingly, he basically gives them a pass!  What?

He says, “What then?  Only that in every way, whether in pretense or in truth, Christ is proclaimed; and in this I rejoice, yes, and I will rejoice” (Phil. 1:18).  Really, Paul?    They just want a big paycheck and you’re ok with that?  They just want to have the biggest Church and the biggest following, and you’re going to let them off the hook?  What gives??

The answer is simple:  Christ is being preached!  The Gospel was being shared, and people were coming to know Jesus as Lord and Savior.  Paul is very much OK with that!  The motives seemed to matter little to Paul.  The results seem to matter a lot.

I’ve quoted the following poem so many times I probably owe somebody a huge check in royalties.  Though very brief, the lesson is huge.

“Methods are many, principles are few; Methods always change, principles never do!”

You could make a huge list of methods that have come and gone all in the name of preaching Christ.  Some might seem very foreign, or out of touch to us, but in their time they were quite effective.  Think about the Tent Revivals that would last for weeks; then they were shortened to a week; then for a weekend.  Many congregations that used to have big revivals don’t even have them anymore.  Think about the bus ministries that brought in many who would otherwise not have attended.  Some might remember the old Jules Miller filmstrip lessons (just consider how the last 2 generations don’t even know what a filmstrip is!  And yet it won many to Christ, myself included!) Think about the styles of worship that have changed, or the use of a particular translation that seemed more readable than the one of decades ago.  Think about the use of fancy graphics, video clips, a sound and light show that would rival a rock concert!  Methods are constantly changing, and they will until Jesus returns. 

Let us be careful, however, not to assign motives to those who employ different methods than the ones to which we are accustomed.  They want to preach Jesus and change lives.  Time will demonstrate whether the method was effective, a dopey gimmick, or just an idea that was a flash in the pan.  I don’t know that Paul, however, would have complained much if a new method was used, as long as the message was still Jesus Christ and Him crucified (1 Cor. 2:2).

I will say, however, that Paul doesn’t give any indication that the content of those teaching with impure motives was lacking or in error.  They may have had less than pure motives, but their doctrinal content was not in error.  Doctrine still matters!  And Paul had no problem confronting anyone, including the apostle Peter, when the doctrine was wrong.   He didn’t want to oppose Peter but did so because the truth of the Gospel was at stake.  For Paul, that was worth taking a stand.  And he did so in an unwavering fashion.  That’s an example worth following.

I believe it is both unfair and unscriptural to condemn those with different methods of presenting the Gospel.  However, it is fair to question (dare I say ‘judge’) those who teaching incorrectly.  I believe that God will deal with those whose motivations were not the best in preaching the Gospel.  How He chooses to do that is up to Him, and that works for me!  Doctrinal purity, as much as some have disdain for the concept, is worth the fight!

So if someone wants to put out the full breakfast spread every Sunday morning with a certified barista at the helm, I can live with it.  If the preacher wants to stand up there in torn jeans, a faded Van Halen t-shirt, and an array of tats & piercings, I’m not going to say much about it.  But if their teaching is wrong, then I will.  I believe it is my duty as  Christian.

Case in point.  I recently took a lot of flack about objecting to the term ‘pastor’ for what used to be called the “Minister,” or the “Preacher.”  It is using the term incorrectly when one is not an elder of the congregation.  And even then he is “a” pastor, and not “The” pastor.  Is it a new method, or is it teaching something which is not found in Scripture?

Several years ago (and I wrote about this in an earlier blog) a church was advertising “Baptism Sunday” to take place about a month from the time it was announced.  Again that doesn’t seem to follow the pattern of the Philippian jailer, or the Ethiopian Eunuch.  In fact, it seems to de-emphasize it as a condition of salvation altogether.  I think that is worth pointing out and criticizing as an unscriptural practice.

I have to work on my tendency of ‘assigning motives’ to those with different methods.  I think at times I’ve been in error on that subject.  I can learn to like and accept new things.  Yet I also need to stand firm, prepared always to defend the truth of the Gospel from those who would seek to undermine its authority. 

May my motives be pure, and my methods effective to share the Gospel of Jesus.

C’mon, Murphy, let’s get out of your air-conditioned house and go outside!