Pastors & The Church

I ran across the attached infographic today and decided to share it with a couple of my own thoughts.  The one thing that really stands out to me is the statistic that 72% of Pastors admit that they only study the Bible when preparing their sermons.  Seriously?  Well, that is a serious charge to make, but one I think bears up in the rest of the statistics on the chart.  Matter of fact, I had a Pastor at a church I used to attend admit to me that for quite some time in his pastorate, the only time he opened the Bible was when he was preparing a sermon.  He also did his Sunday evening sermon prep on Sunday afternoon.  I would imagine that he is not alone in this, as the infographic states.

Most mornings at 3:30 AM I get out of bed so that I can spend time reading the Bible and studying God’s Word for myself before I head off to work.  Since I have an hour commute to work and a hour return trip, I typically spend that time listening to a sermon (This morning it was Brian Borgman teaching out of Hebrews on Jesus, The Firstborn) or some other teaching podcast like The Reformed Forum Podcast.  Then, in the evenings, after my children go bed I typically read or study something from one of the many theological books that I have purchased.  I am not a pastor and ministry is not currently my calling, but I typically spend 18 – 20 hours a week in personal study of the Word, plus prayer time. 

So, I guess what I’m saying is that it is very frustrating to me to see an infographic like the one I’ve shared.  But then again, when you look at the state of the current evangelical church, is it any wonder that the average church attendance is roughly 18%?  Over the years I’ve found that if a leader is weak, those he leads will be weak.  If a leader is strong, he will inspire strength in those he leads.  This was extremely evident to me when I served as a Religious Program Specialist with several Marine Battalions.  Officers and Enlisted NCO’s in the Marine Corp were typically weeded out if they didn’t cut the mustard and show strong leadership.  And while the Church cannot be run like a military organization, shared leadership between the Pastor and Elders must exist and it must be strong and focused in a church setting and context.  I would submit from what I am sharing today that this not the case in most church’s.  Just sayin’.

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Our Ambassadorship

How is it possible that thousands upon thousands of people are bored with the church and pass it by?  Why did it come about that the cinema really is often more interesting, more exciting, more human and gripping than the church?  Can that really be only the fault of others and not ours as well?  The church was different once.  It used to be that the questions of life and death were resolved and decided here.  Why is this no longer so?

It is because we ourselves have made the church, and keep on making it, into something which it is not.  It is because we talk too much about false, trivial human things and ideas in the church and too little about God.  It is because we make the church into a playground for all sorts of feelings of ours, instead of a place where God’s Word is obediently received and believed.  It is because we prefer quiet and edification to the holy restlessness of the powerful Lord God, because we keep thinking we have God in our power instead of allowing God to have power over us, instead of recognizing that God is truth and that over against God the whole world is in the wrong.  It is because we like too much to talk and think about a cozy, comfortable God instead of letting ourselves be disturbed and disquieted by the presence of God – because in the end we ourselves do not want to believe that God is really here among us, right now, demanding that we hand ourselves over, in life and death, in heart and soul and body.  And finally, it is because we pastors keep talking too much about passing things, perhaps about whatever we ourselves have thought out or experienced, instead of knowing that we are no more than messengers of the great truth of the eternal Christ.

Every empire in this world sends out its ambassadors.  Their job is to give visible expression throughout the world t0 the will and the might of their empire.  They are not meant to be anything other than representatives, in this way, of their home empire and their ruler.  The German ambassador or the French ambassador is supposed to be the quintessential German or French person.  This has nothing to do with him or her as a person, but concerns only the person’s mission.  And in order to carry out their mission, ambassadors are vested with all the authority of their empire.  They speak and act on behalf of their ruler.

And so the unseen Lord of the eternal kingdom and the church sends out ambassadors into this world, giving them a mission that is greater than that of any other, just as heaven is greater than earth, and eternity is greater than time.  And the authority that this Lord gives these ambassadors is that much greater than all the authorities in this world.  God’s eternal Word, God’s eternal judgment, God’s justice and God’s grace, God’s anger and God’s mercy, salvation and damnation, reconciliation through Christ – these words are placed in the hands of the ambassadors of Christ as the most sacred and precious of goods, which they are called to administer through the grace of God.  They will be required to give a full account to Christ the Lord, the Shepherd of shepherds, for every word they have spoken in his name in his church; as the shepherds of the flock, they will have to carry the blame and the responsibility.  This is the ultimate meaning of the pastoral ministry!

–          Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Summer 1933

Scripture & Scotch?

My wife came and told me that she saw an event on Facebook that was endorsed by a pastors wife that she is friends with.  Scripture and ScotchI guess the premise of this event is to go to a local nightclub in Springfield, MO, play secular music, drink, and share scripture with those who attend.  Judging from the facebook page it would appear that  at least one person who hasn’t been at church in a year, will be there along with many others.  So, my initial impression is that this is a way for those who attend church to have an excuse to go act like the world, which is exactly what Paul said not to do in Romans 12:2 and the Apostle John talked about in 1 John 2:15-17.  I am constantly amazed at the rationalization those who call on the name of Christ come up with to reach the lost instead of just preaching the Gospel message and calling on people to repent and believe.  What is even more troublesome is that I know that the church (cough, sputter, etc) where a lot of those who are leading this is affiliated with a denomination that used to believe in holiness and separation from the ways of the world.  Isn’t it interesting how times have changed?

 

 

Ten Contemporary Sacred Cows that need Tipping

Found this an interesting read this morning. 

1. Entertainment-based Sermons

Pastors/elders/teachers want to be liked. Some want to be liked so much that they’re willing to entertain their hearers while preaching the Bible. They wrongly assume that because people enjoy their sermons, they enjoy Jesus as well. The problem is that if we’re seeking to entertain our hearers, then we don’t believe God or Scripture can hold the attention of God’s people. In other words, you may say “the Bible is worthy of your attention,” but if you’re using entertainment to communicate this, then you’re undercutting your message with your methods. If the Bible is worthy to be heard because God is its Author, then you shouldn’t have to use entertainment to get Christians to listen to it. You just might be entertaining your hearers to death.

2. Bribes

Easter Sunday was just a few weeks ago. With the heightened cultural interest in the resurrection of Christ, churches pulled out all the stops to persuade attendees. Churches gave away cars, money, ipads, food, etc. Continue reading

Revival?

Every time we drive by a church with a sign out front announcing, “Revival meetings here next week,” we are confronted with an understanding of revival that exaggerates the human dynamic. It may seem a small point, and I do not wish to be unfair. But how can we advertise a revival and expect to retain credibility? Presumably we do this because the very idea of revival has been diminished to an event on the church calendar. Evangelistic meetings — maybe that’s all people mean when they announce a revival — are a legitimate program. But true revival is not a scheduled program. It is a gift from the Throne wonderfully interrupting our little programs. The Holy Spirit blows like the wind, unpredictably, mysteriously, uncontrollably, wherever he pleases (John 3:8). We can’t announce him in advance. We can only pray that he will blow our way.

– Raymond C. Ortlund, Jr., When God Comes to Church (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker, 2000), 19-20.

The Devil’s Mission of Amusement

In my perusings this morning I came across something by Archibald Brown that is so applicable to what seems to be happening to the Church today.  It also reminded me of something Carl Trueman said at a breakout session at the Together for the Gospel 2012 conference.  He was talking about the church campus model that seems to be accepted today.  He led into the talk by explaining church architecture of old.  It seems that in the past, church’s, cathedrals actually, were designed in such a way that your eye was drawn to what was most important when you walked into the building.  He talked about a Catholic cathedral that was centered on the Altar and on a Protestant cathedral that was centered on the Lectern.  In the Catholic tradition, the Altar is where God and man come together.  In the Protestant tradition, the Word and the preaching of the Word is where God and man come together and architecture of old emphasized that.  Mr. Trueman then went on to talk about the modern church that is built around a “stage” that seems to have been borrowed from the theater in the 1800’s.  He then proceeded to talk about the way that a lot of modern church’s, with their satellite campus systems have live music and piped in sermons.  He said, and I agree, that this model seems to show what is important.  He went on to imply that if the preaching of the Word is the most important thing, then why isn’t the music piped in and the preaching live?

I relate all of this to set the tone for something Reverend Brown said a century ago in a sermon entitled The Devil’s Mission of Amusement.  Here is the text of his message:

Different days demand their own special testimony.  The watchman who would be faithful to his Lord and the city of his God has need to carefully note the signs of the times and emphasize his witness accordingly.  Concerning the testimony needed now, there can be little, if any, doubt.  An evil is in the professed camp of the Lord, so gross, so brazen in its impudence, that the most shortsighted of spiritual men can hardly fail to notice it. During the past few years it has developed at an abnormal rate, ever for evil, It has worked like leaven until now the whole lump ferments, Look which way you may, its presence makes itself manifest.  Continue reading

Intimacy of the Church

I can’t say that this is an original thought because it isn’t.  I shamelessly ripped it off from a facebook post by Elizabeth C.  She posted, “I don’t pretend to know what loving others is like for everyone, but I can tell you what it is for me; to love others is knowing everything (good and bad) about someone, and still wanting to be there for them!”
So, why am I even writing this?  Well, it could be because a couple of days ago I didn’t even know who Elizabeth was.  Had I seen her picture or seen her in person, I would have known her face as someone who has recently started coming to the same church I go to.  I remember looking into one of the classrooms this past weekend and seeing a new, dark headed volunteer in there working with my children, but I didn’t know her name.  Can you imagine that, someone working with my kids and I don’t even know who they are.  Then, this morning, she asks to be my friend on facebook.  I had to ask my wife who she was because I didn’t know her.
So, that got me to thinking off and on as I sat at my desk this morning about how we know those around us, yet we know so little about them.  The older I get, the more convinced I am that the only way we as a church are going to shine the light of Christ to this lost and dying world is to be more involved with those around us.  I’m not saying that we have to conform to the lifestyle of the world, but there is a huge separation of those in the Church and those outside of it.  There is a pastor I know who says, “found people find people!”  The only way to find those people is to get involved in their lives and personally minister to them.
Now it’s confession time!  I don’t get involved with people very well.  I used to, but along the way, I’ve been injured, hurt, stomped on and a whole host of other things.  So, I’ve pulled myself into a little shell and drawn up boundary lines that will only allow people to get so close to me.  Yet, the funny thing is, I crave the closeness that can happen when people open themselves up to another.  You read in the Bible about Jonathan and David how they were so close to each other.  You read about Jesus getting into the lives of his disciples.  I mean, think about it, he literally spent 3 years with 12 men, traveling the countryside, teaching, talking, eating, and sleeping beside these men.  I realize that the Bible talks about the inner 3, Peter, James and John, but I don’t think for a minute that when Jesus rebuked Peter, He did it privately (Mark 8:33 kind of bears that out).  So, the disciples all knew each other’s business.  They knew Matthews good points and bad points as well as the rest of them.
So, my question is why is it so hard for us to “Do Life” like that today?  Why are we so easily offended or put off when someone starts opening up to us with the hurts and trials of life?  Sure, we love it when they share the triumphs and highs they experience.  But we don’t want to hear about the lows.  I am so guilty of this!  Here is the sobering thing about all of this.  Sure, Jesus went to the cross to be the sacrifice for our sins, and I’m not making light of that, but he also gave his life to his disciples before He went to that cross.  He “Did Life” with them so that when He was gone, they would believe in Him and continue what He started.  Why in the world would they go on putting themselves in danger if it wasn’t real?  They saw what happened to their leader.  Some of them stood at the foot of the cross, and I really believe that others hid amongst the crowd that had gathered.  They saw the agony; they saw the shredded body; they saw the blood; they heard the anguish; they watched the life leave Christ.  Why would they continue on after having seen that?  Because it was real.  They had experienced a life that was real when they walked with Jesus.
I believe that our enemy wants to keep us, at all costs, from having those kinds of relationships because if we do, God will be freed up in our lives to move in ways that we can’t even begin to comprehend.  I heard it said not long ago that if we will just do what the Bible says, God will begin to entrust us with more.  While I have found nowhere in the Bible where it says, “Thou shalt have close relationships with those around you,” the implication is there.  God chose a heathen by the name of Abraham to have fellowship with.  What?  Abraham a heathen?  Yeah, take a close look in the book of Genesis and see for yourself.  In Genesis 11, the people all came together to build a tower.  God intervened and caused a language barrier to come upon the people and scattered the people over the face of the earth.  Now, I may be wrong, but I’m not thinking that God did that because he was happy with what was going on.  So, Abraham descended from one of the dispersed groups.
Then, in Genesis 12, God chose Abraham.  Can you imagine that?  The God of the entire creation coming and choosing one man!  That is astounding to me.  He didn’t need to, He wanted to.  He desires close intimate fellowship with us.  We are His creation and from the limited account in Genesis 3, God appears to make it a habit of coming into the garden and “Doing Life” with His creation.  He wants us to have real life.  Our enemy does not want us to have that real life, which is why we struggle with it so much.  It is definitely why I struggle with it so much.
Maybe it’s just me, but this struggle confirms my belief in who God is.  It seems like I always try and look at the why of the struggle.  If some part of me wants to have close relationships and another part of me doesn’t, to me, that somehow bears out the Bible as being true.  I know that sounds crazy.  But put your mind into it a moment and ask yourself a few questions.
1.       Why do I desire close relationships?
2.       Why do I struggle with them when they are available to me?
I have never yet seen a baby that after a couple of months of life didn’t reach it’s tiny hands up to it’s mother and signal in a way that is impossible to miss that it wants to be held.  That child wants to be near it’s mother or father.  That child craves the attention, the affection, the closeness.  Studies have shown that children that are neglected have major issues later in life (read more here:  http://www.childwelfare.gov/pubs/factsheets/long_term_consequences.cfm).  So, that makes me wonder why it is later in life we push back so hard and don’t want to have that closeness, that intimacy.  Oh, but I don’t have that problem, I desire that closeness and intimacy, you might say.  Really?  Seriously?  Have you been divorced?  Have you had sex with someone outside of marriage or someone other than your spouse?  Right there is proof that you don’t really mean that.
Now before you go jumping off the deep end, don’t think I’m condemning you for any of these things.  Matter of fact, I’m divorced myself, so don’t think I don’t have a little bit of insight into this issue.  If you think about it, the reason divorce takes place is because of sin.  What?  Yeah, sin!  Divorce stems from sin because it is a lack of intimacy with God first and your spouse next.  Seriously, strip it all away and you know I’m telling it like it really is.  Maybe you didn’t want the divorce, but can you not see the lack of closeness that lead up to it. And sexual relationships before marriage and outside of marriage are just our attempt to find intimacy that will never be found outside of God.
So, to wrap this all up, our relationship and intimacy with God has to be solid before we can develop close, proper relationships with those around us.  But, this kind of leads to circular logic because we don’t develop a closer relationship with God without developing closer relationships with those around us.  Those around us help hold us accountable so that we can grow closer to God, which in turn, helps us grow closer to them.  By choosing not to develop close intimate relationships with those of like faith, those we are supposed to “Do Life” with, we are basically snubbing our nose at God and telling Him we don’t want a relationship with Him.
Wow, sometimes I hate thinking out loud and putting fingers to keyboard because I just made myself accountable for what I have written.  What about you, are you accountable for what you have read?

Unless you are…

On my way to work this morning, I was listening to the Word of God.  While I love to read the Bible, I’ve found that sometimes when I listen to it I will get a new and fresh perspective on it.  Anyway, as I was listening to Acts 15, I was struck by a very disturbing thought about the current state of the Church.  Acts 15:1 (ESV) says:  “But some men came down from Judea and were teaching the brothers, ‘Unless you are circumcised according to the custom of Moses, you cannot be saved.”  Talk about exclusivity and arrogance!  But, isn’t that an apt picture of the church of today?

To be a Christian and a member of this church, you must:

  • Dress the way we do.
  • Talk the way we do and know all the right Christian cliche’s.
  • Stay away from “R” rated movies.
  • Take off all your make-up cause God wants you just the way you are.
  • Cut your hair short if you are a man.
  • Wear your hair long if you are a woman.
  • And the list goes on.

I realize that in today’s day and age, there are very few churches that actually post a sign with these rules and regulations on them.  Very few pastors will even preach anything like this from the pulpit.  But the look we who call ourselves Christ followers give to people who are “different” than us, says it loud and clear.  What gives us the right to judge?

So, where did this thought come from, you might ask?  I had a friend send me a link to a website that contains short messages by people who have given their lives to God.  One, in particular really struck me.  It is a message by Brian Welch (Click on the link, watch, and then read on).  I had absolutely no idea who he was, but I know the rock group he used to be a part of.  Anyway, he is the kind of guy that if you saw him walking towards you on the street, you would probably turn around, cross the street, or walk into the nearest store to not have to walk by him.  But, what would happen if this guy walked in to your Church?  What would happen if he knocked on your door?  Would you welcome him?  Would you even make an effort to talk to him?  Would you turn your back and ignore him?

Seriously!  Don’t just read this to be reading this.  Put a little thought into it.  Search deep inside yourself and answer these questions honestly.  Your answers to these questions could decide eternity for you.  Just because you go to church, tithe and go on missions trips will not get you to heaven.  Yes, we are supposed to do those things, but above all else, we are to have the same attitude that Christ had (read Philippians 2:5 for confirmation).  He went and hung out with lepers, prostitutes, IRS agents, you know, scum of the earth.  In our day, leprosy isn’t as common as it appeared to be when Jesus walked the earth.  But, I guarantee you that if He walked the earth today, he would be hanging out with the homeless, personally ministering to those with AIDS, talking to prostitutes, and maybe even going to dinner with and IRS agent or two.

Sadly, I think Jesus really wouldn’t be spending a lot of time in our churches.  Remember what he said?  “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick.  I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners” (Mark 2:17).  But, the problem with this statement is that it was in answer to a question from the church people of Jesus’ day.  They wanted to know why Jesus hung around sinners. They thought that just because they went to church, they were righteous.  Funny thing is, as modern as we like to think of ourselves, we are absolutely no different than the people of 100 years ago, or even people who lived thousands of years ago.

Anyway, sorry for being gone for so long and not posting.  Some of you probably wish I’d take a permanent break from this blog, but that isn’t going to happen.  My whole goal is to cause you to think about why you are a Christ follower, and also to help you become a more fully devoted follower of our Savior.