LISTEN UP: How to Listen to A Dull Sermon

We’re not exactly sure what Paul’s preaching was like, we get a few hints here and there (1 Cor. 1-2), but in Acts 20:7-12 Paul preached for a really long time.  So long in fact, that a young man went to sleep and fell out of a window.  We’ve not all fallen out of a church window before but most of us, I can admit this too, have fallen asleep during a sermon.

By definition the word dull means this: not lively, spiritless, causing boredom, lacking depth or intensity, slow.

These words are usually not descriptive terms pastors want to hear attached to their own preaching.  BUT sometimes it is.  A dull sermon is one that leaves a lot to be desired.  It may be chaotic, hard to follow, unstructured, dense, cramming too much into a little time, too brainy.  Sometimes it may feel like eating very heavy pudding, or like walking in a dark little room with no windows to let light in.  The sermon gives its hearers little to no methods of applying it to their lives, and was poorly presented for sure.  Now, not every sermon is going to be a home-run, and yes, sometimes our pastors will strikeout.  But still, don’t they have degrees for this reason?

I think for a sermon to be dull it means one thing: lacking in presentation.  It may be 100% Biblically faithful, accurate to the text, delivered by a preacher who knows the truth, yet lacking all sorts of Holy Spirit power, and definitively boring.  What then are we to do when those dull sermons come?  A few things:

1) Pray: did you pray for your pastor before church?  Did you pray for him at all during the week?  If not, a dull sermon may be God’s answer to your prayerlessness.  Lesson?  Pray for your pastor.

2) Listen to the dull sermon: don’t walk out.  Sit there and make yourself listen.  It may make you tired to pay attention deeper than you normally do, but God will reveal Himself through His Word.

3) Seek your heart: why do you find it dull?  Are you one who favors a kind of personality over the truth?  Surely, the truth ought to be delivered with a passionate fire and power/unction from the Holy Spirit, but ask yourself if you really only like the cool, hip pastors downtown?  If you do, be rebuked.

4) Pray & Learn: I’ve already touched on prayer, but seriously do it.  Pray that God would cause something in the sermon to stick to your soul that would benefit His glory and your own good.  He will answer, and you may be surprised at what you come out of that moment learning.

5) Encourage: You’re pastor may need some encouragement, so do it.  Tell him what you liked about that passage, about his sermon (even if it was little), and if you can do so in a gracious manner tell him how to preach better.  This may mean telling him to apply it deeper, stick to the text more, or seek to soak in the text throughout the week.  Anything you say to your pastor will mean a lot, especially if he knows you are for him and want his success.

We’ve all been there, dull sermons are hard to get through…for both the pastor and the hearer.  Settle down, sit back, pray, God will move…He always does.

 

LISTEN UP: Do What the Bible Says….TODAY

Monroe loves preaching.  He loves and believes that God speaks to His people through His Word, and sits on the edge of his seat with notebook in hand to take meticulous notes.  He has done this for many years, and has on his shelf tons of full notebooks to show his faithfulness in sermon note taking.  He has become more convinced that the Bible is 100% reliable and trustworthy.  But his wife and his friends haven’t really noticed much change for the better in Monroe’s life over the past 10 years or so.  He sure knows a lot, but doesn’t change a lot from all his sermon note taking.  He wonders why.

Dave on the other hand doesn’t take notes during the sermon, doesn’t feel like he knows very much Biblical knowledge, and feels out of his element during small group/Bible study discussions.  He knows he doesn’t know much, and he seems to carry around a lot of questions with him.  But when Dave learns something about God, his conscience simply won’t let him forget it, or settle to just have down in a notebook somewhere.  He must apply it, and that very day he adjusts his life in line with what he learned.  He is grateful for God’s work in His life.

Which person do you relate to more?  Throughout the past 10 years of my life I have had seasons where I looked a lot like Monroe (more than I’d like to admit), and seasons where, praise God, I’ve looked more like Dave.  You see, from the outside looking in Monroe looks like a better Christian because he has shelves to show for it.  But though Dave doesn’t have shelves of sermon notes or theological books to show anyone else, he has a heart that is becoming more like Christ everyday.  Dave would make a great leader, Monroe would not.

Why?  Dave obeys the Bible….TODAY while Monroe merely puts it on a shelf.

What do you do?  Do your shelves condemn you?  Or do your shelves commend you?  Deuteronomy 30:15 says, “See, I have set before you TODAY life and death…choose life.”  Psalm 95:7-8, “Today if you hear His voice, do not harden your hearts.”  Every time the Bible is preached it should lead all who hear to repent again, to trust in Christ again, and to obey afresh. We must respond that very day as the verses above teach.  Now, it’s not that we become Christians all over again day by day, but rather that we are all in an urgent situation where we must hear, receive, and apply the Word of God daily (James 1:21).

When I look back at those times in my life when I more resembled Monroe I notice now that I would also take vigorous sermon notes.  I’d never miss a point, sub-point, or illustration.  My note taking was so meticulous that a pastor once asked me what his sermon points were the previous Sunday because he knew I would have them written down.  The issue here wasn’t that I took good notes, that’s great.  The issue was that after taking such notes I would never go back to them again and soak in the what God had taught me.  I accumulated many notebooks full or sermon notes that I merely got onto paper like a monkey in senior high economics class.  That’s not good.

Every time we hear a sermon the devil whispers in our ears, ‘Good stuff huh?  You’ve got plenty of time to apply this stuff to your life, do it tomorrow, you’re busy enough the rest of the day.  After all there is no rush is there?’  Wrong, there is a rush.  We must apply what we learn from God the day we learn it.  Psalm 95 said, ‘TODAY when you hear His voice…’ and one thing we learn from that is that when we hear His voice, we obey His voice that very day.

Practical steps to take:

1) Ask yourself about the things you need to change after the sermon.

2) Do it TODAY, praying, and asking for grace to enable you to repent/change.

3) Enjoy preaching, not as entertainment, but as God’s regular gracious invitation to walk with Him, and rejoice in a clear conscience.

LISTEN UP: Do What the Bible Says

Zack is a typical guy at church.  He finds Christianity interesting, he feels welcomed and even affirmed in the church.  He enjoys preaching, even when it beats him up a bit.  He joins in lamenting how bad the world is, how other people should take the Word of God seriously, even the people sitting right next to him.  But it doesn’t occur to Zack that he should embrace what he wants others to embrace, that he should take the Word seriously too, and that he needs to change as much as he wants others to change.

Contrast Zack with Brian:

Brian is deeply aware that he needs to change.  Each week he sits in church, hearing the preaching of the Word and is convicted in some way that he is not like Jesus.  It may be the curse words he lets out now and then, maybe the jealousy he harbors over his co-workers performance that’s better than his own, or maybe the laziness he sees gaining ground in his life.  Whatever it is, he comes into the sermon knowing he’ll be challenged to not remain the same, and afterwards will want to put what he heard into practice.  So Brian prays in his car before coming into the church building that God would give him a heart to hear and respond with loving obedience.

These two men are very different.  From the outside they may look identical at first and would be hard to tell them apart.  But from the inside they look very different.  Zack’s heart is insensitive to the activity of God during the preaching of the Word, while Brian seems to be honed in to what God is calling him to do each week after hearing the sermon.  The difference between the two men can be seen in this: one knows the purpose of sermons, one doesn’t.

James 1:22, Luke 8:15, 2 Timothy 4:1-5 call us to be people who do and not merely hear, people who embrace the Word, retain it, and produce a crop, people who seek doctrine, teaching, rebuke, encouragement, and training in righteousness.  You see, sermons aren’t meant to entertain, or to gain amusement from them, they’re meant to instruct.  Sermons are meant to engage the whole person, with the whole counsel of God, for the whole of their life in Christ here on earth.

Sermons instruct us, and once instructed by God, God then calls for change to occur in our lives in line with the truth proclaimed to us.  We must obey what we hear.  This isn’t merely a good idea, it’s the only fitting response to hearing sermons.

Don’t hear me saying we can obey on our own, we cannot do that.  We’re slaves to sin, unable to help ourselves.  We cannot even repent without God enabling us to do so first (2 Timothy 2:25). It is God who opens our hearts to respond to His message, from the moment we begin the Christian life to the moment it ends.  How then do we obey?  We plead with God to implant His Word in us as we hear it, and cause it bear fruit in us.  Do you ask this?  You ought to.

Practical steps to take:

1) After this weeks sermon, write down all the ways you wish that other people would obey that teaching.  Don’t hold back, write them all down, even the nitty-gritty.  When you’ve written all that down look over it.  You have before you exactly what you should be doing too.

2) Then examine your own life for specific ways you need to change: attitudes, language, actions, things you must stop doing, things you must start doing, etc.  Whatever these are, write them down, and keep them somewhere you won’t forget.

3) In a few months time, look back to what you’ve written and ask yourself if God through that Scripture your pastor preached from has borne any fruit in your life.  Has it?  Praise God!  Go to step 4.  Has it not?  Go to step 4.

4) Pray, pray, and pray again for God by the power of His Spirit to bring forth the fruit of His Word in you…more and more.

(Adapted from LISTEN UP, Christopher Ash, 2009)

LISTEN UP: Hear the Sermon in Church

Tell me this, who is a better sermon listener?

Person 1 has an iPod full of sermons and barely any music.  John Piper, Matt Chandler, Tim Keller, Mark Driscoll, and other famous preachers fill up the iPod almost to full.  By having all these sermons so readily accessible person 1 has been able to log thousands of hours listening to sermons from many different preachers.  But person 1 rarely goes to church anymore because better preaching is available online for free.

Person 2 doesn’t have an iPod full of sermons from all the popular guys though he has heard of them and is gaining more of an appreciation for them.  When person 2 goes to church every week they have trouble paying attention to the sermon their own pastor is preaching because his pastor doesn’t always hit home runs.  But the main point is usually clear, faithful to the text,theologically truthful, and meaningfully applied.  Person 2 knows this pastor, has a feeling he prays for him regularly, and sincerely feels his pastor is interested in his life.

Who is a better listener?  Person 2, hands down.  Why?  Person 2 not only understands that the most important preacher in his life is the one who preaches to him every week, but he understands the principle at play here: the normal place for hearing the Word of God preached is in the gathering of the local church (Deut. 4:10, Acts).

The Church is to hear sermons preached as they gather together, firstly but not only to hear the Word together, but to be shaped together into the people God is making them to be, to be accountable to one another as they hear from God together, and one of the best things about it is that while you gather together to hear the Word preached is that you can respond together to the Word preached as one people.

Do not misunderstand me here.  Listening to online famous preachers is good not bad.  Many good podcasts abound out there, and you should be listening to them.  But listening to your own pastor, in person, is not only a good thing to do, it is a better thing to do.  John Piper, Matt Chandler, Tim Keller and any other famous guy most likely doesn’t know you, doesn’t know your story, your struggles, and to be honest they don’t regularly pray for you.  I listen to many sermons/podcasts throughout the week, have been to many conferences to listen to the big preachers preach, and have even met a few of them in the past.  I have been greatly helped by these men.  But whats in view here is not a choice between what is bad and what is good, but between what is good and what is better.  The truth remains: the most important preacher in the life of any Christian is the one they sit before week in and week out.

The question while listening to the iPod sermon is ‘What is God saying to me?’  The question while listening to sermons with/in your church is ‘What is God saying to us?’  The focus is off of you as an individual and the focus is brought back to what it should be: the Church as a whole, which you are a member of.  We do life together, learn together, grow together, and respond together regularly.

Practical steps to take:

1) Make it a priority to be in your church weekly to hear the Word of God preached.

2) Encourage others to do the same.

3) Recognize that preparation for Sunday worship doesn’t begin Sunday morning, but earlier.  Re-orient your schedule to benefit you on Sundays.  (Meaning that you probably won’t be listening well on Sundays if you stay up till 3 am the night before…just saying)

4) Embrace that you can’t live the Christian life alone, you need the Church.

5) Pray God would give you a desire to sit under His Word together with the rest of your congregation.

Adapted from LISTEN UP! Christopher Ash, 2009

9Marks First Five Years Conference: A Reflection

IMG_0700Am I doing this right?  What should I be doing different?  What am I doing right?  Should we be growing more?  Should I seek out ways to build a bigger church?  What does it mean to be faithful in pastoral ministry?  Why is this so hard?  These are just a few questions that were addressed and answered this past week at the 9Marks conference for new pastors called First Five Years in Charlotte, NC.  I along with hundreds of other young pastors sat and listened to young pastors themselves speak about their own hopes, pitfalls, joys, failures, successes, and hardships in their first five years of ministry, and I was greatly helped.  The overall tone was the desire for young pastors to not merely survive, but thrive, in our first five years of ministry. (The above picture are a few of the books they either gave away or had on sale, quality stuff.)

This is the first time 9Marks has done this conference and I hope they do it again.  Here is a brief summary of what went down:

Talk 1: John Onwuchekwa – Usefulness in ministry is an awful goal for pastoral ministry.  Productivity is an awful north star for pastoral ministry.  Matthew 7:21 shows that many useful ministers are now in hell.  What then should out goal be?  Faithfulness.  Relax, settle in for the long haul…strive to be faithful, God will bring results according to His will and purpose in His timing.

Talk 2: Edgar Aponte – Though trials in ministry may be large at times, and though they tempt us to doubt God’s faithfulness to us, trials are not the end of our story, comfort is.  God purposefully brings trial into our lives and the lives of our congregations to bring us to new pastures.  Everything will fade away as grass, but the Word of God will endure forever – therefore build your ministry on the Word, not on grass.

Talk 3: Bobby Jamieson – How we relate baptism to church membership teaches our people the significance of both.  Thus, we must eagerly pursue the entrance into church membership through baptism.  Baptism is how a believer commits themselves to the church and submits themselves to the authority of Christ’s lordship.  If we remove the tie between baptism and church membership we move away from Biblical church membership.

Talk 4: John Worsley – We sometimes tend to forget that churches face a real hindrance to gospel growth due to a deep-rooted violent satanic influence.  This will tempt us to trust ourselves for church growth, or tempt us to think God is not doing anything at all among your congregation.  Solution?  Trust God steadfastly for growth.  He grows His Church in His way and in His time.

Talk 5: Ken Mbugua – Pride is one of the largest temptations you will face as a pastor.  It is so dangerous because it tends to camouflage itself in a million different ways.  To fight our pride, and we should fight our pride, we should: 1) commit to keep our eyes on the cross because the One crucified on the cross is the only One who deserves glory, 2) place our confidence in God’s power rather than our own to accomplish His work among His people, and 3) keep an eye on judgment day because knowing how we’ll one day be laid bare before God only to have assurance in the blood of Christ will keep us in our rightful and humble place.

Talk 6: Anthony Moore – How can we move through the suffering we’ll see in the lives of our people?  How can we continue on through the suffering we’ll see in our own hearts?  Knowing that God is good, God is present, and that God is not silent.  He brings suffering into our lives as the great surgeon, cutting us in deep/painful ways to rid us of harmful things.  We should never waste our suffering.

Talk 7: Jeremy Yong – What is the key to successful shepherding?  Love.  But more specifically loving Christ’s sheep with the love that He loves them with.  How do we do this?  By loving Christ supremely.  A supreme love for Christ brings forth a love for His people because we you love Christ you come to love the very things that Christ loves.  Therefore Christ’s purposes for His Church become our purposes for His Church if we love Christ.  Our purposes and plans will fall into the background and His will remain, strong and steadfast.

Talk 8: Tahiti Anyabwile – What is the one thing that should consume your first five years of ministry, the very thing that will pave the foundation of your ministry for the next 50 years?  Encourage your people.  Why encourage?  Because the gospel is encouraging.  These churches are not ours, they’re Christ’s.  We’re called to serve His people by encouraging them in the gospel.  Do this in public, in private, in sermons, in counseling, and in all you do encourage your people.

Talk 9: Trip Lee – As a pastor what is the main thing you’re to give your attention to?  1 Timothy 4:16 gives us the answer: your teaching and yourself.  By doing this you will save both yourself and your hearers.  Be sure of this, that you embrace and believe yourself what you call your people to embrace and believe!  That you heartily and affectionately love the Savior of sinners you call your people to love.  Pastor, it matters not mainly that you teach, but what you teach.  It matters not mainly that you live, but how you live.

Talk 10: Harshit Singh – Investing faithful doctrine, into faithful men, who then faithfully do this to other men is true discipleship.  This is the longterm Church growth principle that the Bible gives us to take up and put into practice.  No fancy gimmicks, or cool fads but long, messy, life-on-life, one-on-one discipleship.  This is not a factory set up for mass production, this takes a lifetime.  Faithful leaders, entrusting faithful doctrine, to faithful men is the Biblical pattern for discipleship.

Talk 11: Mark Dever – ‘…preach the Word…” How do you know if you’re preaching a good sermon?  What is a good sermon?  What is a bad sermon?  A good sermon is 3 things: faithful to the text, theologically truthful, and contextually applied.  Preaching the Word of God is the God-ordained way He intends to grow His people.  The preaching of God’s Word is the very thing God uses to accomplish His will in the lives of all His people.  Therefore ministry done according to God’s will is ministry done according to God’s Word.  God’s work, done in God’s way, never lacks God’s blessing.

Talk 12: Shai Linne – Pastors ought to be men of prayer.  Prayers of praise, prayers of intercession, prayers of confession, prayers of thanksgiving, praying publicly, praying privately, praying for the nations, praying for other churches, and praying expectantly.  If the pastor is not on his knees seeking the face of God for himself, his family, and his congregation – can he really expect God to move in power?

Talk 13: Garrett Kell – Pastors who love Jesus should labor to have pure hearts and pure lives.  Why?  Because it is only through purity that one see’s God (Matthew 5:8).  We are commanded to see the lavish grace we’ve been given in the gospel, and once we see such lavish grace bountiful gratitude should explode into our hearts leading us to purify ourselves more and more (1 John 3:1-3).

Of course, these basic summaries of all 13 talks given only scratch the surface of what we learned together.  I was rebuked, confronted, challenged, comforted, exhorted, and encouraged in the gospel.  And I am glad I’m back so I can begin to put these things into practice so my first five years in ministry are not spent by surviving, but by thriving for the glory of the gospel of the grace of Christ.

The Plus-One Approach to Church

From Kevin DeYoung over at his blog on Gospel Coalition:

Are you just starting out at a new church and don’t know how to get plugged in? Have you been at your church for years and still haven’t found your place? Are you feeling disconnected, unhappy, or bored with your local congregation? Let me suggest you enter the “Plus One” program of church involvement.

I don’t mean to sound like a bad infomercial. Here’s what I mean: In addition to the Sunday morning worship service, pick one thing in the life of your congregation and be very committed to it.

This is far from everything a church member should do. We are talking about minimum requirements and baby steps. This is about how to get plugged in at a new church or how to get back on track after drifting away. This is for people who feel overwhelmed and don’t know where to start. This is for the folks who should make a little more effort before slipping out the back door.

The idea is simple. First, be faithful in attending the Sunday morning worship service. Don’t miss a Sunday. Sure, you may miss a couple Sundays during the year because of illness. Vacation and business travel may take you away from your local congregation several other Sundays too. But keep these to a minimum. Don’t plan all your cottage getaways over the weekend so that you miss out on your own church (and perhaps church altogether) for most of the summer. Don’t let the kids’ activities crowd out Sunday services. (What did Joshua say? “If soccer be god then serve soccer, but as for me and my household we will serve the Lord.” Something like that.) Don’t let homework or football or too much rain or too much sun keep you from the gathering of God’s people for worship. Commit right now that Sunday morning is immovable. You go to church. Period.

Now, add one more thing.

When you meet people who feel disconnected from church, start with this question: Are you committed to worshiping with us every Sunday unless you are providentially hindered? If they say yes, then move on to “Plus One.” Is there at least one other activity in the life of the church in which you are consistently and wholeheartedly participating? Usually the answer is no. Most people who feel disconnected from church feel that way because they have not made the effort to connect consistently. This doesn’t mean churches don’t have to do more to care for senior saints, singles, those with special needs, or any number of other folks in the church. This doesn’t mean pastors can say (or think), “It’s all your fault.” Sometimes it precisely the pastor’s fault. But I find that most often–not always, but normally–people who want to get involved, find a way to get involved through the existing structures of the church.

That’s why I say, be faithful on Sunday morning, plus one more thing. Personally, I’m partial to the Sunday evening service. I think it’s the easiest, most historic, and one of the most biblical ways to really get to know your church. In most churches, the evening service (if they have one) is smaller, more informal, and contains elements of prayer and sharing that may not be as present on Sunday morning. Plus, the time after the service is usually less rushed and allows for more genuine fellowship.

If Sunday evening is not an option, join a small group. (I reiterate: these are baby steps. I hope people in our church will participate in Sunday evenings and small groups.) If your church doesn’t have formal small groups, you could still invite a group of friends over every other week for prayer and fellowship. If that’s too much right off the bat, find a good Sunday school class and go every week. Or join the choir. Or get involved with the youth group. Or sign up to be a greeter. Or go on the men’s retreat. Or join the outreach committee. Or take the leadership training course. Or come to the prayer meeting each week. Or teach a kids class. Or volunteer with a local ministry your church supports. Or do Meals onWheels. Or join the softball team. Or do the mid-week Bible study. You get the idea.

Large churches have hundreds of Plus One opportunities. Even small church will have plenty to choose from. Make Sunday morning your first priority. Then try one more thing and stick with it for at least six months. Maybe you’ll realize the church is not for you. Maybe you’ll still need help getting plugged in. Maybe you’ll find it’s time to sit down in person with a pastor or elder. But I suspect you will find that you feel more invested, you’ve made new friends, and you’re eager to see Plus One become Plus Two or Three.

Church Membership is Not Shallow Recreation

I believe membership in our church is no small matter.
Church members, just as a body, are reflections and extensions of who the church is.  Therefore no church should take membership lightly, rather it should be a slow but steady process to equip the saints for the work of ministry among the community God has placed us.
A helpful parallel comes into view when thinking about the importance of church membership, marriage.
In a marriage ceremony a man and a woman both enter the ceremony as separate entities and leave as two people in “union.” They do this “publicly” before God and the Church so that the Church can hold them accountable for their promises made.  A similar principle applies to the importance of church membership. “Just as a couple profess their love before God and the church so too a person stands before God and the church to profess faith in Christ and commitment to His Body.” (J.V. Fesko) But, just as there is more to a marriage than public vows to one another, so too church membership is more than a mere public profession of faith and commitment to the community.
When a person joins a Christian church that person is not only telling the world that they are a Christian, but they are telling the church leadership they are willing to submit to their spiritual oversight and guidance.  To come back to the marriage parallel, the man who attends a church but never joins is like a man living with a woman and never committing to her through marriage.  People who do this think they are leaving themselves free of “responsibility” by never completely committing to someone else.  This is sinful. It is a cop-out. Should we think any differently about church membership?  The person who attends church and never joins is doing a similarly tragic thing.  They may think they’re keeping themselves free from responsibility but what they don’t see is that they’re cutting themselves off from the very things God has intended to communicate His grace toward them – the local church.
Don’t hear me saying what I’m not.
Most people take time to find a spouse, for others a spouse comes quickly. Most people take time to find a church they can give their lives to, but for some it doesn’t take much time at all. Just as the end goal of a relationship should be marriage, not shallow recreation, so too the end goal of church visiting is membership. In this sense it is the destination that matters more than the journey.

Church Members – Big Toes, Hands, Eyes, Armpits, & Noses

All church members are gifts from God, no matter what position they hold in the Body of Christ.  That is why every now and then once you have a group of new members joining the church you should have a moment during worship where an awareness is made of all the new members joining into the community.  When this is done, it is good to point out a few things.

First, these new members are gifts from God.  They do not all hold the same positions in the Body of Christ, some are big toes, others are hands, while others are eyes, armpits, or noses.  This is not crass, it is just meant to show that not every person in the Body has the same role, but to also point out that all roles are vital to the existence of the Body.  Because of this, no one, even the pastor, can be in a position/role of the Body where they could boast of their importance over another person’s role.  This would be selfish and foolish in the most utmost degree.

Second, these new members are gifts from God.  They did not come to us by chance, happenstance, or circumstance, but by God’s divine providence.  Out of all the people on earth at this time, and out of all the people that could have been joining your church, these people are coming to join because God’s design is for them to be in this specific expression of the local church.  This means there are people who need these people present with them.  This means God will be more glorified by these people joining.  This means the whole of this local church will be built up more by the people coming to join.  This means we cannot look down on them, but rather, seek to build up and be built up by these new members.

All this to say one thing: God wants you and I to notice the gifts He has given to us in His grace.  What are they?  The people around you.  The people who have joined your local church and are being used of God to make you into who God wants you to be.  Praise Him for such grace!

Not Everyone Should Be a Member of Your Church

I am going to say something that may stir some of you, so I’ll just go ahead and say it.

Not every person who wants to be a member of your church should be.

Why do I say that?  Because there is one qualification one must meet in order to be a member of a healthy Christian church – namely, you must be a Christian.  Lots of churches have many other qualifications, some have absolutely none.  I do honestly think it is easy to get lost in the criteria one must meet or doesn’t need to meet when introducing new members into the fold of our churches.

In our day it is easy to get tangled up into different things because when we see new folks walking through our doors we are so quick to say or think something like this: “Welcome to our church! How did you find us? Want to come to my small group? Want to join me this weekend and go on a retreat? Want to be a member, we can make you one today if you want to?! What do you think?” We think and say these things before we even let this innocent bystander respond to our first question! How foolish are we? Not everyone who desires to be a member of our churches should be one.

There ought to be a vetting process each prospective member goes through because of one reality: some of those who claim to be sheep have some sharp teeth. This means not all those who seek membership in churches want to be there for correct reasons.

Two things

First: this vetting process should exist and be purposed at determining to find out one thing, whether or not this person is a Christian. Before you call me a Pharisee note one thing – anyone, Christian or not can come to our churches but it is not pharisaical to say that one must be a Christian if you’re to be a member, bottom line, no exceptions. Testimony, testimony, testimony, tells all. Let’s hear them, and respond accordingly.

Second: though this vetting process is a must, we need to know that our leaders or elders who are putting people through these vetting sessions are not perfect and do make mistakes. Also, those people were interviewing are not going to be perfect either. There is sin on both the interviewer and interviewee sides, thus we must recognize that this vetting process will contain mistakes.

Therefore, by Gods grace let’s lead well, and protect the sheep for whom Christ shed His blood.

Country Clubs and Churches – Membership Matters

What, if any, is the difference between membership in a local church and membership in a country club, rotary club, exercise club, or reading club?

This is a huge question that many ask, and also that many answer wrongly by pointing out small differences between these types of club memberships.  Sure there are similarities, but there are HUGE and MASSIVE differences in church membership and other clubs.  What is the main difference?

Life is war

If life is indeed war, the Bible ought to call us soldiers, does it?  Yes, in 2 Timothy 2:3-4 he says, “Share in suffering as a good soldier of Jesus Christ.  No soldier gets entangled in civilian pursuits, since his aim is to please the one who enlisted him.”  Paul calls every Christian a soldier here in this passage.  Did you notice though, that being a soldier implies something massive – we’re not civilians.  Do we even think in these terms? I am not a civilian in this life, but rather a soldier, called into service by General Jesus?

I wonder what would it look like if I and we actually took this call seriously. If this sank into me, evangelism and missions would no longer be simply sharing my faith here or somewhere else, it would be fighting with desperate love for lost souls.  It would be asking men and women to lay down their lives and give all to Jesus.

Meeting together for worship would no longer just be a group of people who gather once or twice a week, but a gathering of the troops, to show our allegiance to the King and receive a word from our Commander, only to be sent back out into war again!  Rather than seeing the Church as a cruise ship where we graze all day on all kinds of food, we would see the Church as a battleship preparing us, training us, and taking us into war.

My devotions and my daily time in God’s Word would no longer be my simply my reading time, but my meals that I need for existence and survival in this hostile environment behind enemy lines! Obedience to God would no longer be seen as a good idea, but the only option.

Accountability relationships would no longer be just a sharing of embarrassing things with those close to us, it would be a coming alongside one another for back up and aid.  It would be fighting for a man or a woman while he or she is down, or reloading! And faith would no longer be seen as fluffy concept, it would be life or death – either I fight for my faith, or I lose my faith. If we’re soldiers, we are not our own.

As a soldier of Jesus Christ, you are on His agenda, not yours. Christians are not a civilians, I think it’s about time we stop living like one.  When you “join the club” you are enlisted in the army of the King.  No earthly club has this demand to it.  When one enlists, you give all you have.  Nothing less is called for.

 

“Do I have to Join? Be Reasonable Pastor.”

“Can’t a Christian just attend a church regularly without joining?”  Of course you can, but it won’t be a kind of attendance that’ll glorify God or do you any good at all.  It won’t glorify God because it’ll reveal your lack of commitment to God’s people along with your selfishness as well.  It would seem that a person who asks this question is more concerned about themselves than those around them, is more content to be a lone ranger Christian, and this kind of person isn’t really the kind of person you want sticking around, that is, if this attitude continues (which hopefully it won’t).

So why such an emphasis on a deep and heartfelt commitment to a certain local body of believers?  Because of Hebrews 10:23-25, “Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who promised is faithful.  And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.”

Notice the author of Hebrews calls us to two things:

a) Let us hold fast to our confession of hope without wavering trusting in Him who is always faithful.

b) Let us consider how to stir one another up to love and good works,

How are we to do these things successfully?  How are we to hold fast to our confession without wavering, and ponder how to stir up one another toward love and good works?  Simple, the verse ends with our solution, “…not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, all the more as you see the Day drawing near.”

It would seem from this text that this is the reason we cannot merely attend church and be content with hiding in the crowds, or the back row, never allowing anyone to get to know us, or bother to get know anyone else.  A Christian will yearn to get into fellowship, and even though it may seem like a miracle to get people to come to church these days, we cannot lower our standards at all to keep them in church.  It is not reasonable, as a pastor, to let people come and taught that it is ok to sit back and hide in the shadows.  Coming out will be hard, it always is when you enter into a new community.  But you’ll find what countless others have found through the ages – the joy of communal worship.  Joining hands with other like-minded believers who want the same thing you do is glorious.

To give your life to this is what God demands.  To do anything less is to continue to sit on the bench, get off it, join the procession of the saints, and worship the King with others.

Church Membership – Is it Important?

Today begins our discussion of the 6th mark of healthy churches – Church Membership.

Church membership can seem like a nit-picky item at first glance.  I say this because in our culture it is beginning to be seen as crazy to go to church anyway, let alone become a member and give your life to a certain body of believers.  No one like commitment, no one likes tithing, and no one wants to stick with the same people for a long time, especially when things get messy.  But, it is my opinion that being a member of a local church is not only a good idea for all Christians, but something that is commanded by God.  Where do I get this?  Many places in Scripture, but one place stands out to me:

Acts 20:28 – “Pay careful attention to yourselves and to all the flock, in which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to care for the church of God, which he obtained with his own blood.”

In this passage of Acts Paul is addressing the elders in the church at Ephesus.  He is clear here as to what he wants them to do.  Not only pay close attention to your own soul and spiritual care, but care for the flock of God among whom the Holy Spirit has made you an overseer.  So the call these elders receive is one to personal and communal pastoral care.  Personal because it is the duty of all Christians to see to it that they care for their own soul and grow in grace, not being lazy or careless about spiritual disciplines.  Communal because it is the duty of elders that they care for, shepherd, teach, lead, and love the people God has placed under their care.  The key to notice is that elders do for others what they also do for themselves.  For them, to not do these things would be sinful, selfish, and wicked.

Notice though – who is the flock?  How do we, as elders, know who to shepherd?  Well, 20:28 gives us clear definition?  The flock is the group of people “in which the Holy Spirit has made you an overseer.”  These people do not include every Christian throughout all time in all locations.  There has to be a way to define/determine those under one elders care verses another’s elders care.  This way to define who belongs to who is our next mark of healthy Christian churches – membership.  How else can an elder know who he is supposed to shepherd?  Those who become members of a certain local church are officially under the care of the elders in that church, not under the care of another elder in another local church.  Thus, we have not only the warrant, but the Biblical mandate to institute church membership.

Other Biblical reasoning for Church Membership is:

The distinction God makes between His people and the rest of the world (see Lev. 13:46Num. 5:3Deut. 7:3).

Jesus says entering the kingdom of God binding yourself to the church “on earth” (Matt. 16:16-1918:17-19).  The church on earth is the local church.

The New Testament refers to some people being inside the church and others being outside the church (1 Cor. 5:12-13).

The church in Corinth consisted of a definite number of believers.  Paul therefore could speak in such a way to where it made sense to hear of “a punishment inflicted by the majority” (2 Cor. 2:6) come from his letter.

The famous “one anothers” of the New Testament are written to provide local churches understanding of what practical Christian living looks like.

Now, there are a few questions that remain for me that we will walk through this week.  Can’t a Christian just attend a church regularly?  Why is there such an emphasis on commitment to a local body of believers?  What, if any, is the difference between membership in a local church and membership in a country club?  Are there demands, fees, and rules a member must abide by?  Also what, if any, should the qualifications be for church membership?  Do we let anyone who so desires in?  Or do we only let some of the people desiring to be members in?

These things and more, we’ll spend the next few days looking into.