Wednesday, April 29, 2009

What's Wrong WIth "Church"?

Am I the only one noticing that many new upstart groups are avoiding the word "church" like the plague in their names? "Church" has now been replaced by such nebulous and non-threatening titles such as "community," "family," etc. Most recently the cast of "Dancing With the Stars" also assured their viewers that they too were a tight-knit 'family.' That sure makes me feel better about watching them! Or groups will often choose names that evoke thoughts of positive life choices, belonging, transitions in life, etc. without needing to bother with the term "church." These have become replacements for the word "church." One of my favorite seminary professors would have called them "weasel words"! I recently went on a website of a "Christian Community" and looked in vain for any mention of the word "church." When I visited that "group" twice they appeared to be working very hard to avoid the use of the word "church" in their service as well. Have we become ashamed of the "Church" and too much like the world already filled with one group or organization after another?

My question is this: Is the word "church" a bad word? Have the modern church growth experts determined for us that in the 21st century the word "church" is so loaded with baggage that it must be replaced in order for people to desire to become a part of it. Is "church" too old, out-dated, and moldy where it must be relegated to a place of non-importance, just like that dust-covered old organ that hasn't been played in the last 5 years?

Is "church" just a replaceable synonym for any community, or a civic club, or gathering of people? I think not. The very word which we translate "church" is ekklesia which means to be "called out," from the world, and other social, political, civic entanglements, priorities, and loyalties. People can (and often are) devoted to the Moose Club, the Lions Club, the Elks, Eagles, Knights of Columbus, and the list goes on, but these are not replacements for the Church regardless of any good civic work they may do. The "church" is not just a group of like-minded individuals such as a civic club or political party. It is much more than that! It is the "church" which is identified as the body of Christ, not the Improved Order of Aardvarks!

Perhaps if Churches actually were less like the world they would be more attractive to people who are already entangled in the mindset and sin of the world. Too many cutting edge, visionary church planters have "dumbed down" (to borrow a phrase) what being a part of the Church is all about. They've forgotten "Who" the Church really belongs to as well. This also raises the question, "Why do today's church planters still call themselves "church planters" when they avoid the use of the word "church" in the groups they establish? Answer: To get money from established churches! Or to ask another question, why do Christian Universities still give lip-service to training a faithful ministry when it's obvious they no longer have that as their first priority? Answer: To get money from the churches! (But that's an upcoming blog!)

The "Church" is precious because it was established by Jesus. Matthew quotes Jesus as saying, "upon this rock I will build My church..." (Mt. 16:18). The Church belongs to Jesus! He didn't come to establish a civic-club no matter how well intentioned. He didn't come to start another non-profit organization. He did come to call people out of the world and to be made a part of His body, the Church! This is not something to avoid or minimize. This is something worth shouting about! The "Church" is precious to God because it cost Him something very valuable. Paul said that the "church" was purchased with "His own blood" (Acts 20:28). Show me one place where the local Kiwani's club or Rotary club was purchased with the very blood of the Son of God! The Church is no doubt precious to God, and should be to us as well! It is a name not to be forgotten or re-defined to be more culturally palatable to the masses. By definition it seeks those who will leave the world's way and be identified with Jesus who founded the church. We should take note that Paul also had a high regard for the concept contained in "church" when he said, "All the churches of Christ greet you" (Rom. 16:16).

Being all things to all people to win some is a great idea (see 1 Cor. 9:19-22). Yet it does us well to remember the lines of a great little poem: "Methods are many, principles are few. Methods always change, principles never do." Selling out the "church" is selling out the body for which Jesus died, and the lifestyle He calls us to join. I believe it's time to be excited about the possibilities of the "church," not throw it out! We are told that the Church still has a mission. Look at Ephesians 3:10-12 and then tell me we can do without the church! Paul writes in verse 10, "in order that the manifold wisdom of God might now be made known through the church to the rulers and the authorities in the heavenly places."

Be excited for the church! Be involved in the church. Don't cast the church aside!

C'mon, Murphy, let's go outside!

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Who's My Pastor?

Don't be so quick to call yourself a "pastor"! I smile and shake my head at the number of guys out there who have {mis}appropriated the title of pastor, or when they think they are really important "lead pastors." It sounds so relevant, so cutting edge, so dynamic. But what it doesn't sound is biblical! It shows a complete disregard for correct usage of a fine biblical term in order to conform to what they think is more attractive to the masses. It shows a near contempt for the biblical model of leadership in a local congregation. Perhaps in their mind the end justifies the means, but it is a dangerous concession to make, because it circumvents the Lord's plan for the care of the flock. God's plan doesn't need to be amended! This applies to the plan of salvation as well as to the leadership in His Church.

The term pastor is a great word. It denotes a shepherd of the flock, one who knows his flock, cares for them, and protects them. Jesus used this term in John 10 as He described His care for the people, and noted that He would lay down His life for the sheep! Paul uses the term alongside teachers in Eph. 4. Peter calls upon elders to shepherd the flock, and refers to Jesus as the Chief Shepherd in 1 Peter 5. There is nothing wrong with the term at all when understood and applied biblically.

In the New Testament church "pastor" becomes a term for a shepherd-leader of the flock, used interchangeably with the word "elder." Yet I don't recall seeing anyone use the term "lead elder," or "Elder of the flock." I guess if more denominations used it then our guys would be falling all over themselves to claim that title too.

What's the problem then? Pastors are neither distinct nor independent from elders! They are the same body of leaders in the local church. Pastors are definitely not the executive branch and elders the legislative branch. They were never designed to be independent and definitely not antagonistic towards one another.

At one time the elder's role may be in teaching or preaching (1 Tim. 5:17). At other times their work may be in the pastoral area (Acts 20:28; Eph. 4:11). Some elders may be more gifted in administrative roles, others in shepherding roles, and others in teaching or preaching. But they remain elders just the same!

Many years ago, J.W. McGarvey wrote, "To apply {the title pastor} to a preacher who is not a regularly appointed elder of the church is a misnomer; as much as to call the Lord's Day Sabbath, or to call sprinkling baptism. It is a violation of the law that we must speak as the oracles of God; it is letting go of the form of sound words which we have heard from the apostles. Again; to style a a preacher "the pastor" is still more unscriptural, for it robs the eldership entirely of this title and makes it appear that there is but one pastor to the congregation, whereas the apostolic churches all had a plurality of them..."

I doubt that there's a youtube video of McGarvey saying these words, or else it could be shown in the middle of a sermon somewhere. But to all those cutting edge, modern, maverick, not bound by the tired traditions of the past "lead pastors" out there, why not call Bible things by Bible names? And if you're really searching hard for a good title, maybe we could talk about 'evangelist' some time??

C'mon, Murphy, let's go outside