This post is actually written for pastors. What? Writing a post for that purpose is strange for a couple reasons. First, I don’t presume to think that any pastors read this blog (though I hope some do). Second, it’s awfully arrogant of me to think I have much of anything to say to a pastor, someone who has been specifically anointed and appointed to shepherd God’s people, when I haven’t. Obviously I am neither a pastor, nor in vocational ministry at all.
I’m writing this assuming that the wisdom or observation or suggestion of a layperson can be helpful to a pastor; or at least that the recommendation by a layperson to what other pastors are saying can be helpful. I am assuming that someone who cuts and sells foam, but who also happens to seek and live a “missional life” in Church and beyond has some helpful perspective for someone who seeks, teaches, and lives a missional life, but just doesn’t happen to cut and sell foam or work in the secular marketplace; that perhaps someone like myself has a perspective of “contextualization” that a pastor would not. The risk in that assumption being wrong is one I’m willing to take. Hopefully, this stance will not be viewed as arrogant, but humble.
As a side note, if I were a pastor, I would be all over this conference:
I’m considering checking it out myself. Do I feel called to someday go into the pastorate or full-time ministry?
But I doubt it. Besides, it is a miracle in the first place that God would use me at all, in any capacity. Right now at least, I feel God pruning, disciplining, and sanctifying me into the role of a “pastor” in the business world. That is to say, a businessman who is actually pastoral in his witness and biblical approach to the marketplace; a manager who not only proclaims his faith through bible verses on his wall or free bibles in the lobby, but also who loves and helps his employees, customers, and suppliers in a way that is productive for the company and for the kingdom of God.
Someone who has a vision for business that centers on producing a product (or service) that allows the community to flourish, and employing people in meaningful work that allows them to utilize their God-given abilities - all the while not compromising the absolute truths known to be true (among them, that the goal of a business is to make money, or else the opportunity to do any of this would be bankrupt).
And someone who pursues “seminary” as a lifestyle, instead of a series of semesters. I think this would be unique (though I did not come up with the concept), powerful, and fruitful. So we’ll see.
In the meantime, I wrote this post because God has brought me to a sensitive, but important, subject in the Church, and in the process I came across an interesting message at a conference for pastors (A Shepherd and His Unregenerate Sheep). Please listen to or read this message – as usual, my summary is not sufficient. It speaks on the reality that every Sunday, there are some, maybe many, people, who take communion, have their Bibles open, and sing to God at church; and during the week attend (or God forbid, lead) a small group; but do not have a true knowledge of, relationship with, or saving faith in, Jesus Christ. The way Matt Chandler approaches this tragedy in this message is by encouraging and rebuking the pastor (read Christian leader), instead of calling out and criticizing the “unregenerate sheep”. This is probably an effective approach, among other reasons, because it would be difficult and counterproductive to try to determine who is “regenerate” and who is not. It is the way Paul approached it with Timothy.
So, I wanted to pass along some amazing lessons from this message, and I acknowledge that such lessons are most helpful to pastors. But, if you consider yourself a leader in the Church at any level, which is to say that you feel a calling to disciple other Christians into a growing knowledge of Jesus Christ (which you should, if you’re a Christian) then this will hopefully be very helpful to you also, as it was for me.
If you are not a Christian, I hope this can be for you a helpful distinction between what the Bible teaches a Christian is and what the world assumes a Christian is. And I hope that the biblical definition, and biblical center of that definition (Jesus), would be infinitely glorious and irresistibly desirable to you. I hope that it would clarify to you exactly where you stand spiritually, in case no one has been so bold as to share the Gospel with you, and therefore left you unsure.
If you are a pastor, by all means, you have no idea how much I welcome (and need) your comments, criticism, rebuke, etc. If you’re not a pastor, lay off.
Just kidding. At the very least, consider this food for thought.
DOCTRINE AND COMMUNITY
I don’t think there is much I could say that would be as clear or profound as the instructions in 1 Timothy 4.
1The Spirit clearly says that in later times some will abandon the faith and follow deceiving spirits and things taught by demons. 2Such teachings come through hypocritical liars, whose consciences have been seared as with a hot iron. 3They forbid people to marry and order them to abstain from certain foods, which God created to be received with thanksgiving by those who believe and who know the truth. 4For everything God created is good, and nothing is to be rejected if it is received with thanksgiving, 5because it is consecrated by the word of God and prayer.
6If you point these things out to the brothers, you will be a good minister of Christ Jesus, brought up in the truths of the faith and of the good teaching that you have followed. 7Have nothing to do with godless myths and old wives' tales; rather, train yourself to be godly. 8For physical training is of some value, but godliness has value for all things, holding promise for both the present life and the life to come.
9This is a trustworthy saying that deserves full acceptance 10(and for this we labor and strive), that we have put our hope in the living God, who is the Savior of all men, and especially of those who believe.
11Command and teach these things. 12Don't let anyone look down on you because you are young, but set an example for the believers in speech, in life, in love, in faith and in purity. 13Until I come, devote yourself to the public reading of Scripture, to preaching and to teaching. 14Do not neglect your gift, which was given you through a prophetic message when the body of elders laid their hands on you.
15Be diligent in these matters; give yourself wholly to them, so that everyone may see your progress. 16Watch your life and doctrine closely. Persevere in them, because if you do, you will save both yourself and your hearers.
Regarding doctrine, there is one example from this sermon based on this text that I’d like to highlight:
“Evangelism that doesn’t lead people into a community that teaches and embraces the reality of progressive sanctification is an exercise in futility.”
That is a mouthful, but read it a few times, because it is a very profound and helpful observation about discipleship and conversion. What I think he is trying to say is that if you expect in evangelism to make an altar call, pray the prayer with someone, and then be done, you are wrong. Not teaching the reality that justification gets you right with God, and sanctification keeps you right with God, and that both of these are done only through grace and by the Holy Spirit, and that justification is once for all but sanctification is progressive; not teaching and embracing these things could ultimately lead people to either legalism or license.
Legalism in the sense that they spend their Christian life enslaved to keeping the law and commands of God (like the elder brother in Luke 15), and when they realize they can’t, or that they aren’t always rewarded accordingly, they become severely depressed (or angry).
License in the sense that they spend their Christian life doing whatever they want (like the prodigal in Luke 15), and they end up eating with pigs and maybe never even realize it. In both of these cases, they are lost and outside of the grace of Jesus Christ and may not even be “justified”. Evangelism that teaches that Christianity is something altogether different from legalism, or license (sinning so grace can abound), is the only kind that will be effective, because through the Holy Spirit it will get people saved, and keep them saved.
And even worse, if evangelism leads people to this place, outside of a loving, committed, authentic community of believers who encourage, challenge, and love new members of the faith, then the whole exercise is futile. If evangelism leads people to a generic small group that is comfortable and friendly, but does not help people navigate through the complexity of this world and the reality of their remaining sinfulness, then the effort is at risk of inoculating people to a relationship with Jesus. What Matt Chandler means by this term “inoculate”, is that we risk showing someone just enough of Jesus for them to never know him – we show them just the surface of his character in the Bible without unpacking the deep, profound, and eternal accomplishment that started on the Cross and will end at glory – and in turn people will think they know him because they know only a generous Savior; or think they know him because they know only an authoritative Lord; instead of knowing they know him because they live in a relationship with both a mighty Lord and a gracious Savior, and do so in a community of believers who encourage and confirm that reality every day.
All this talk does not mean that someone can lose their salvation (cancel their justification). Progressive sanctification naturally leads to the reality of the perseverance of the saints, which means that only those who are born again will persevere in faith to the end, and only those who persevere in faith to the end were ever really born again. I promise that statement is not as confusing as it sounds. “For by a single offering, he perfected for all time those who are being sanctified.” – Hebrews 10:14
All that to say, I think Chandler’s point is that doctrine (and community!) is important in evangelism, and you can’t have one without the other. If we neglect either, people won’t become authentically saved, or they will, but life and indwelling sin will strip all their joy away and leave them lukewarm.
Again, the text in 1 Timothy 4 is clear, but one point to highlight:
12Don't let anyone look down on you because you are young, but set an example for the believers in speech, in life, in love, in faith and in purity.
The example that Matt Chandler uses is hearing the stories of two groups of people who went on the same mission trip, but traveled in different buses to get there. One bus of people (from another church) spent their time praying, reading scripture, and calling out to the mercy of God, and when they arrived, they were covered in tears. The other (from Matt’s church) spent the time challenging each other as to the best joke they’d ever heard, and upon arriving, exited the bus laughing and carefree about the mission ahead of them. Chandler describes how disturbed and convicted he was by this: “I laid on the floor and sobbed because my witty, sarcastic humor had been embedded into The Village so much that on the way out to such a dark, spiritual destination, we’re doing knock-knock jokes.” He recalled a professor in college saying, “Five years in, what’s wrong with your church is wrong with you.” I don’t think this only applies to the pastor, but to any Christian leaders in the congregation as well.
Be the example in speech, in life, in purity, in love, in prayer. Be the example. By doing so, you will not only confirm and reveal the regenerate, but also you will save both yourself and your hearers.
One note about spiritual depression I thought would be helpful to include, which was mentioned above referring to the result of a life of legalism. Many of the heroes of the church struggled with spiritual depression; wondering, or doubting, or despairing, for no apparent reason. It happens, it good times or bad, and can be very dangerous, not just for yourself, but for your witness.
In my experience - with I guess I would describe as limited in that my times of doubt or despair have seemed minor in comparison to the John Bunyan type – I have been convicted of a few very practical and helpful ways to fight the sin of despair (which can be the gateway to worse things).
1. Be inspired every day. What I mean by this is that not a day should go by that you are not inspired to the point of amazement at the Living God and the reality of the Gospel of Jesus Christ as it applies to your salvation and those God desires to reach through you. Whether it is through music in your car, or a sermon, or a bible verse stuck in your head, or a really good book, or having a conversation with spiritual implications, or just enjoying fellowship with friends - you should seek to have your mind blown and heart moved by the God of the Bible every day. And at the most fundamental level, you should make sure that the source of that inspiration is the Word of God, the content of that inspiration is the Gospel of Jesus Christ, and the power in the inspiration is the Holy Spirit. Such inspiration will do wonders to your joy and witness, and God offers it to you every moment.
2. Know who you were created to be. Get all over Ephesians 4 and realize that you are a uniquely created being that God knit together in your mother’s womb for specific gifting that He intends you to use for the glory of His name. This process is not necessarily easy (it probably requires a separate post), but begin it so that you will not wonder if your existence is only random and waste your life consuming and enjoying when God created you for much more.
3. Serve others and not yourself. This should be common sense, but unfortunately in our culture it is not. We were created for community, and we were created to love others, and we were created to glorify the name of Jesus Christ, and until that reality is understood and embraced, we shouldn’t expect to ever be completely satisfied. The more selfless we become, the more joy we experience, and the more God is glorified.
4. Develop and maintain a full assurance of hope. All these points really require another post, but all I mean by this is that if you can’t develop and maintain a full assurance of hope, and be completely secure in your salvation and eternal life, than the enemy will use your doubt to devastate you. It is God’s will that we be sanctified, and know without wavering where that sanctification is leading us.
5. Talk to yourself more than you listen to yourself. This advice is from C.J. Mahaney in a talk called The Troubled Soul, and it basically means we should constantly remind ourselves of the promises of God, speak scripture to ourselves all the time, to counter the worry, doubt, despair, confusion, anger, and whatever else that seems to come from inside us involuntarily. We are our most trusted counselor, and it shouldn't be that way, because we are sinners. The Holy Spirit is the Counselor we need.
I am going to write a potentially massive post about the Church, as soon as I get the time – about church-hopping, discerning a healthy church, becoming a healthy church member, strategies and programs, new paradigms, etc. In the meantime, my general observation is that the direction of the American Church is curious right now, because most would tell you that it is at risk of significant decline. Just pick up a Newsweek. Actually, that is what people have been saying for decades, and so far it appears that the solutions have not slowed this decline (which could be defined in either numbers or passion). The marketing philosophy of the mega churches, and the truth phobia of the emergent church, have not seemed to be the answer to what the Holy Spirit is doing. The next effort may indeed be the “house church movement” or the decentralized model of bringing the church to the people, and “doing life together”.
I believe this last effort has some teeth. It is more biblical and meaningful than all the rest. But I also worry about throwing out the baby with the bathwater. If we strive for our churches to become Bible-centered (considering the Word of God to be authoritative and inerrant); and Christ-centered (knowing that the Bible is not just a bunch of religious stories but a canon that is entirely pointing towards the person of Jesus Christ); and Cross-centered (knowing that Christ was not just a good teacher who taught us some things but was the Son of God who went to the Cross to accomplish for us forgiveness (saved us from sin), and propitiation (saved us from wrath), and expiation (made us clean), and that this was the center of history) – if we become a church like that, I think we can throw out the bathwater of false teaching, lukewarm living, prosperity and marketed gospels, and still keep the baby of the local, structured, biblically-led church. And if we keep that, I think real, authentic, life-changing community, and disciples who bring the church to their neighbors and co-workers, will result from it. If we let the local church be thrown out with all these unbiblical things, we risk losing the foundations of our faith, and stand to drift off not only to heresy, but also to irrelevance and fragmentation (beyond even what the Protestant church has experienced so far). This doesn’t have to happen.
If we watch our life and our doctrine closely, we will decrease the possibility of unsaved people being a part of our community while not knowing anything is wrong. If we are faithful, by the Holy Spirit, after becoming a part of our community, we will witness these people become saved and live in the joyous certainty about the nature, fruits, and permanence of that salvation. We will see a church and community of born again people proclaiming and demonstrating the Gospel of Jesus Christ to a broken world, with full assurance of hope, and without fear of the persecution that will await us. God has seen fit to use the local church for this for centuries. Though decentralization is necessary in our time to refocus our efforts to the outside world, we must be careful that the local church is not the casualty. The local church has not been the problem; the problem has been what many have let the local church become. We should both be the church and go to church, and I believe God will take care of the rest.