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!

Monday, January 30, 2012

The Church With the Coolest Name...

I've reached the conclusion about myself that most have known about me for some time: I'm not trendy. I'm not hip. I'm not on the cutting edge. Hi, my name is Blair, and I'm stuck in a previous generation. Sign me up for a 12-step program!!

And so the current effort to come up with relevant, cool, enticing, and even provocative names for a new church leaves me scratching my head. Now many of my much cooler friends on Facebook actually work for churches with these names, and so in an effort to not offend my dedicated brethren I'm not going to name some of them here. However... I did a google search of "Trendy Church Names," and came up with a couple of good lists. You can blame them if your cool church name is listed. Scan down through them, you'll see some familiar names here:

From "Real" to "Celebration" to "Kinetic" to "New Beginnings" some on the list at the churchventure blog start to sound familiar. And to demonstrate that someone had at least 1 Greek lesson in their life I have to note #3 on this list, "Eklesia Church [sic]." Nothing like a little redundancy, but again, it must be cool! I wonder if they offer first time visitors some "Soda CocaCola"? And in both of these lists there are names that are definitely interesting and attention-grabbing. Some evoke thoughts of positive change in a person's life. Some offer a sense of direction in a world that doesn't offer one. And except for some dopey ones like "Scum of the Earth" and "Guts Church" (See the first link above), most are not offensive or completely off the wall.

But are they biblical? Do they emphasize man's condition or God's Kingdom on earth? In one of the lists of trendy names I saw ONLY ONE reference to the Spirit. But I'm still looking for a reference to Jesus who said, "Upon this rock I will build My Church" (Mt. 16:18). Does this strike anyone else as bothersome, or is it only the 50 and above crowd who would notice it?

I try to imagine Jesus saying, "Upon this rock I'll build 'The Flood.'" Or, "Upon this rock I will build my 'Warehouse.'" Would He have said that the gates of Hades will not prevail against Passion City? Do you think we would have got the "NorthPointe, CenterPoint, OceanPoint, MidPoint, LifePoint, MercyPoint? What is the point of all these names that don't mention the founder and central focus of the Church?

Two thousand years after its founding, the Church must still be about Jesus! Why take His name out of the name of the "Church"? The idea that to be relevant and cutting edge we need to "introduce Jesus slowly" or behind the scenes is offensive! Why not state up front what we are about, or who we belong to, if indeed we are really about Christ and belong to Him? The Gospel is still relevant, and it still changes lives. People are still called to make a decision to put Christ first.

Paul mentions the "Churches of Christ" in Rom. 16:16; and the Church of God in 1 Cor. 1:2. I take note of the fact that the term "body" is used often in the New Testament. Yet the emphasis is still being the "body of Christ." Rom. 12:5 says, "so we, who are many, are one body in christ, and individually members one of another" (NASB). 1 Cor. 12:27 says, "Now you are Christ's body, and individually members of it." Eph. 4:12 notes the biblical leadership that will build up the "body of Christ." One more will suffice. Col. 3:15 says, "And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which you were called in one body; and be thankful" (NASB).

There are other excellent examples of Biblical names for a Church. Yet they would in context emphasize the founder (Jesus) and the purpose (worshiping and serving). Because the emphasis in these biblical names for the church points upward to Christ! We are the called out (ok, I remember ekklesia too!), a part of His body, and work to promote and advance His cause here on earth until He comes.

Is this what the trendy names suggest? It seems to me that most of them say, "Hey, your life is screwed up, but we'll make you feel better about it (without offending you, or boring you with a lot of talk about the Bible). Yet the argument is, the old names associated with "church" put people off, and their preconceived ideas about the church will keep them away.

In the first century, being a part of the Church that Christ founded could easily get you killed. At the time of the founding of the Church, talking about that Nazarene named Jesus went against the religious and social understandings of the day. When the body of Christ first came into existence, people made a life changing, and occasionally life ending decision to become a part of it, because Jesus was worth it to them! It was not intellectually or academically acceptable to follow the teachings of Jesus! It was not materialistically profitable to 'leave the boats and become a fisher of men.' But people did it. They were called to repent, and change their life and thinking.

Some rejected Jesus (see Jn. 6:66) and did not follow Him any longer. But Jesus did not change His mission or His message. Paul noted that some fell away, wanting to have their "ears tickled" in 1 Tim. 4:3, 4. Some aren't going to like our message either, no matter how we package it with relevancy, being cool, and avoiding the controversial.

I'm thankful for today's modern pioneers of the Gospel. Indeed these present-day evangelists have gifts from God that can be used in significant, even great ways. I echo Paul's prayer in 2 Thess. 3:1 that the "word of the Lord may spread rapidly..." I heard a long time ago, "Methods are many, principles are few; methods always change, but principles never do." Don't change the principles! The Church is all about Christ. It must remain focused on Him and His Word if it is going to continue to change lives today. Don't be ashamed of the "Church." Spread it! Advance it! It's still about Jesus!

C'mon, Murphy. Let's go outside!