“Resolution One: I will live for God. Resolution Two: If no one else does, I still will.” - Jonathan Edwards -

Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Should I Stay or Should I Go?

I rarely involve myself in discussions taking place around the blogsphere, preferring to do small series’ on observations that I have made in my life. However, every once in a while I will post about something I have read, and this post is one of those.

I would first like to say a few things: (1) I am not going to link to the post that I am addressing, partly because it is a widely read and popular blog and I simply do not have the ‘blog-power’ to spend time in argumentation with the readers of that blog (not so worried about the author, I think he will understand this post should he stumble onto it). I work a secular job and pastor a church, and therefore I have limited keystrokes to spend on the blog. (2) I respect the author of the post, and have for quite some time now. Just because we may disagree (if we even do), regarding this subject, I am in no way disparaging him. And (3), I believe that, if I read it right, the thrust of his post is correct.

First – the post had to do with ‘When is it proper to leave your local church?’. The author then proceeds to make the argument that it is never proper to leave your local church, and although I do not think he meant this, he seems to be saying; there are no conditions which would warrant that.

Now, I believe that the primary thrust of his post may have started out with the thought that people should not simply leave their church because they have a disagreement with the leadership. I heartily agree – being a pastor, I have seen plenty of people leave our church because of simple miscommunication, or a moment of anger. I understand and applaud this portion of the post.

But then he continues to a few things which I believe are incorrect. The first is that he uses 1st Corinthians to show that Paul instructed the believers in Corinth to stick with it, and not leave. He is entirely correct in the reading, but the applications he draws from this may be suspect. I think that the hermeneutical cart is before the horse here. We must look at not only who Paul was writing to, but when and why.

Corinth in the 1st Century did not have a church on every corner. Paul was writing to the ‘believing body’ contained within the city of Corinth. Therefore, there was no other church – there was THE church in Corinth. So, Paul would obviously be arguing that the church needed to stay together. He was not saying, ”I know that there is a good, Bible-believing church down the road, but you stick it out there!” There was NO alternative, and therefore these people are being told to work out their differences.

Secondly Paul was the de facto leader of that church; therefore he was trying to return it to orthodox teaching by reprimanding the people attending. Often in the modern church this is not the case – it is the very leadership that is charged with taking care of the flock of Christ which leads people down the rat hole of bad teaching, or even heresy. Paul’s position was different from what is being addressed in the post; therefore this does not actually validate the argument.

So, now that I have said that, where do I stand on this? Well, here it is – there are PLENTY of bad churches out there. I believe that if people WOULD stop attending these churches and start attending solid, evangelical, orthodox churches, we would be better off. Now, I am no Harold Camping – I believe that the author of the post I am addressing was really focused on that mentality. Per people such as HC, we should leave our local church because they have all become corrupt, and meet in homes.

I am not a Camping-ite – As I stated earlier in this (lengthy) post, I believe that one should make every effort to reconcile with the church they are attending. However, when all efforts have failed, then they should probably move to a church where they feel they are being fed.

I have some real-life examples:

A friend came to me long ago and asked about some things he had heard at his church. The pastor had suddenly got a bug about Reformed faith, and was preaching that it was heresy! My friend, who listened to a number of Reformed teachers, approached the pastor and spoke with him about it. The talk was amiable enough, but no change. It got worse until my friend was so uncomfortable with the situation that he asked my advice regarding leaving (BTW, I had initially recommended that he stay and work it out with the pastor). I told him that he should find a church that more closely aligned with his perspective. It got to the point where the pastor intimated that my friend was becoming involved in a cult because of his belief in the Reformed faith. He left that church and is now happily ensconced in a Reformed LOCAL church.

Second example – a friend was involved in a church that, over time, became heavily involved in the health and wealth gospel. He was in leadership, but was beginning to be ostracized by the other leaders. His integrity, faith, and even moral character came under suspicion. He finally left the church and is now going to an orthodox church, and is happily involved once again the fellowship with believers.

Also, I could take the absurd extreme in this argument – Say a person came to me and told me that they were attending the People’s Temple, run by a very charismatic leader, known as Jim Jones, but they had recently begun to suspect there was something amiss at the church. Would I be right in saying, ”Hey, hang in there, it will get better?” Or would it be incumbent upon me, as a pastor, to ascertain exactly what was amiss, assessing whether or not the problem was as bad as the person had stated?

Bottom line – when we use Paul’s teaching to make a blanket case for staying where you are at, I think we are making a hermeneutical error by not taking into consideration the reality of the day and age when he wrote.

Second – I also believe that far too many people bail on churches too early, or for petty reasons. They SHOULD stay and be in conversation with the leadership about their concerns. They may find, as is often the case, that there has simply been miscommunication. I am not an advocate of church-hopping, I see it all to frequently!

And finally – Would God have us stay in a place where heresy is being taught as opposed to going to a place where His Word was being taught?

Friday, May 25, 2007

Alone Again, Naturally....

Continuing with my thoughts from a Small Church Pastor -- this post will address what I consider to be one of the biggest struggles that I have personally faced at one point or another; that is the pervasive feeling of being isolated and alone, especially if one is planting or pastoring a non-denominational church.

In our case, we are a fairly eclectic gathering, and meet next to a bar in a strip mall. This makes us difficult to place within the Body of Christ in the sense of finding an association to join with...

We do work with some wonderful churches who have come alongside us, and this has helped tremendously. But in the early days I often wrestled with the feeling of being alone, believing that every hardship I (we) faced was unique in the annals of Christendom. Maybe you have struggled with this as well.

Let me provide some thoughts on this:

1. Reach out to the established churches around you; be persistant as many churches may want to 'check you out' before they get too involved. Expect this especially if you are non-denominational. Many view that appellation as synonymous with 'unaccountable'. Ask one of the other pastors to be an accountability partner.

2. Join the local pastor's group. This may be the first interaction that you can have with the other pastors in the community. Let them get to know you.

3. DON'T walk around with a chip on your shoulder that says -- "Our church has it all figured out", all the while dissing all of the other churches in the town!

4. Read some good biographies of great Christians that went before -- people such as David Brainerd, or Hudson Taylor. Men who knew what it meant to die to self and live for Christ in the ministry. You would be surprised at how small your isolation will appear when you read about these people.

5. Have good men around you in the church -- DO NOT BE A DESPOT! I cannot stress that enough. Don't think that everything needs your 'special' touch to be valid! I learned this the hard way! As a small church pastor we sometimes believe that 'we' have it all figured out, and so we need to be leading EVERYTHING in the church. Wrong answer -- you will alienate good people, and burn yourself out. I have great men who surround me and provide leadership, guidance, a shoulder to cry on, and sometimes just their presence. I could spend hours telling you about the men in our church who have been so great at holding my arms up when I no longer could! This helps prevent that feeling of loneliness that strikes at every pastor once in a while.

6. Do not believe the lie that you should not have friends in the congregation! That was a piece of advice that I received from one of my old pastors. "Never develop friendships in the congregation, it will only hurt you." Nudge, nudge, wink, wink. Oh, I see; I should distance myself from the flock as much as possible, right? That will lessen my feeling of isolation, and put them at ease!

Now, you may have some who will be jealous of your friendship with others, but you need to have friends in the church. However, when it comes to accountability, all should be treated equally. One way to do this is by the tried and true method of leadership by a group of elders; that way no one person has the 'reins' of power.

Also, do not forget the most important relationship; the one with your wife and children. A small church pastor can be overrun with 'stuff', and give his family nothing but the chaff, whilst spreading all the wheat of his time around the congregation.

7. Finally, never forsake the time of reading the Word and prayer. These are a great comfort in times when the weight of pastoring is overwhelming, as it can sometimes be when you do not have a staff to assist you. Never get too busy to pray or study!

May I say one more thing? Love your congregation. Pastoring is not a job, or in the words of John Piper "Brothers, We are Not Professionals". As a small church pastor we can become cynical, bitter, and angry with our congregation -- the overwhelming number of issues that come up during a church plant, or even at a small church that has been established for a while can simply drive us into the ground if we allow it. If you feel yourself heading that way, be honest with your leadership and tell them you need some time off. Also, read good books on Pastoring. I will place a list of books in my next installment.


This is not exhaustive, but just some thoughts... More to come...

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Programs, Programs Everywhere!

I thought I would start this series on Small Church concerns with the issue of programs – i.e. how many, what type, etc. Now, I will be the first to say that each church could have a unique situation and not all ideas fit all churches, however the overarching concern of a small church is often – “How do we put together enough programs to reach the community?”

There used to be only one program – that was the proclamation of the Gospel while building a community of believers accountable to one another and to our Lord and Savior. However, nowadays small church pastors are inundated with junk mail, solicitation calls, and pressure from other ministries telling them that they need to have ‘Vigorous Youth ministry’, complete with special activities, fun-filled trips, and a host of other items – ‘Fun-Filled Children’s Ministry’ replete with scaled-down (or up!) versions of Disneyland/Six Flags – ‘Sensitive and Caring Senior Ministry’, where we can keep the elder portion of our church roped off – PLUS Marriage and Young Singles Ministries.

Many would have us believe that without these ministries we are not even a ‘real’ church!

What I have found in small church settings is that the important thing to do BEFORE ANYTHING ELSE is to ENSURE that your pulpit ministry is built solidly around the Word of God, (actually this is true in churches of any size).

Proclaim the Gospel FIRST AND FOREMOST! If you do that, you will build a core team of people who are at the church NOT for the programs, or the kiddie rides, or even the coffee bar; these people will begin to organically, with the leading of the Holy Spirit, build the ministries you need. And they will do it because they are led to do it as opposed to the method of hiring in ‘professionals’ to teach our children, youth and sundry other segmented groups. (that being said, I am not against hiring completely, but I think we often do too much of it, giving our congregants little opportunity to be engaged and involved.)

Truth be told – many programs are financial drains on a small church. If , for example, you do not have a lot of children, then don’t blow the entire church budget putting together a killer children’s ministry; focus on those that God has brought to your church. If a Children’s Ministry is in the works, people will be drawn who have a calling for that ministry – that has happened at our church where we may not have a lot of children, but have been blessed with incredibly talented children’s ministry folks!

Some would say that having a program makes us intentional in reaching certain people, but I would say that if you have 100-150 people, then you SHOULD be intentional in reaching your flock! You should not need a program to do that! Pastor is not simply a title, it is a role – Too many, even in small churches, want to run their church like a business and have a ‘staff’ that handles the ‘sheep’. I disagree – I am not saying that having a youth person, or children’s person is wrong, but if you think that a ‘program’ and ‘staff’ make up for a caring, concerned pastoral ministry, you are mistaken.

More thoughts to follow…

Friday, May 18, 2007

Pictures

Below are pictures from Alistair Begg's Basics_2007 conference:










Tuesday, May 15, 2007

I am going to get to my series about small church issues, but I was catching up on my reading, and I found a post at Gummby’s site which caused me pause. The reason that it caught my attention is that I recently did a sermon series on the beatitudes as part of our study through the book of Matthew.

After I had put my ideas together, prayed about the series, and began to frame out my thoughts and a structure, I went to read a few other sermons on these subliminal passages. While I found quite a few great sermons, I was shocked to find many sermons using the beatitudes as a checklist of qualifications for a Christian! (It could have been how the sermons came out on paper, I don’t know).

Now, while I agree that a person’s life should bear fruit; the approach whereby one gauges their Christian walk by how well they ‘keep’ the beatitudes is wrong-headed (IMHO). Before you dogpile me, hear what I am saying:

A Christian who has been indwelt by the Holy Spirit WILL display these attitudes in their life. It may not be all at once, and it will always be imperfect as long as we are on this side of the Jordan (to use a colloquialism), but it will occur.

However, to push people to KEEP the beatitudes, (as a type of New Testament Law), as opposed to explaining to them that through God’s grace these will be manifest in their life is, I believe, showing a low view of the grace of God. It becomes an effort worthy of Pelagius – you have many people gritting their teeth and trying to be poor in spirit, or merciful, and you end up with frustrated people!

Truth be told – when Christ has drawn you to the Father, and you have been indwelt by the Holy Spirit, the changes are worked through God’s power and not our own. This is not the ‘Let Go and Let God’ bumper sticker platitudes of modern evangelical thought; there is still a concentrated focus that we apply as well (not in salvation, but in our sanctification), however it is God is working through us (ref. Philippians 2:12, 13). It is by God’s POWER and GRACE that we accomplish, NOT by our working really, really hard and BECOMING a better person through our own efforts.

Now you may be saying; “Ray, what does this have to do with Gummby’s post?”. Well, it struck me as I read through his post that many of these motivational guys are preaching just what I spoke of above – that is, if you try really hard, and read my books, and are good, church-going, clean-cut people, THEN you are on your way to being a Christian. To use a phrase from Gummby’s post, it does not reach people ‘where they are’. This ‘gospel’ does not reach down into the squalor of a person’s sin and lift them on the wings of an eagle into the glorious relationship with God, rather it creates just another striving after the wind in a life often filled with striving. Now the guy who works 80 hours a week can be made to feel guilty because he is not working hard enough at church! And there are many churches that are happy to fill a person’s life with conferences, seminars, classes, book studies; almost anything to make them 'better'; everything except the disciplines of the Christian life – Bible reading, prayer, fellowship…

The beatitudes are not a checklist of requirements on how to become a Christian, rather they are a list of traits that a Christian will naturally display by the power of God at work in their lives.

Monday, May 14, 2007

I'm Back

I had a very blessed time at Alistair Begg’s Basic conference – I have gone six years running, and while I have been blessed and refreshed every year, I believe that this was one of the better conferences. The speakers were great: Voddie Baucham, Edward Lobb, and Derek Thomas (one of my favorite speakers!). The only downer about the conference was that Alistair’s participation was very limited due to his recent surgery.

Keep him in your prayers!

The entire event was blogged by Tim Challies. I was able to meet Tim very briefly at the end of the conference, as well as the rest of the speakers. It was a pleasure meeting all of them.

One of the deacons at the church, Jim, and I then rode our bikes back to Dallas. We hit only one section of rain, which is pretty amazing considering that the trip took us through nine states, most of which were getting tornadoes and thunderstorms!

The stats:

Mileage – 2650 Miles
Days – 6
Hours on the bikes – 46
Attending the conference and passing through nine states – priceless.

Thursday, May 03, 2007

Update

I will be visiting the topic of prayer now and again for, as my friend Dave says, it is what drives our church. However, I am going to be starting a new series regarding the problems/issues of small churches and their pastors. We, in the smaller churches, (less than 100), face concerns unique to our size, and even somewhat, to our location.

While there are many who have spoken much more eloquently on this, I wanted to just post a series of observations that I have collected over the years of being involved in, and pastoring small churches. Again, these will probably not be news to anyone, I just wanted to put them up in case some other small church pastor was feeling like he was alone, and facing issues that no one had ever faced before.

I won’t have answers for everything, but I will make some basic observations about most things, and I am sure that some of my friends may be able to add to this. Before I start this series I will be heading to Alistair Begg’s Basics Conference, but wanted to provide a preview to inform everyone that I have not stopped posting, but have been completely consumed the past few weeks.