Count it all joy. That’s what it means to be like Christ. Why would we have it better than our Master?
Of course, there are tremendous blessings and rewards as well. Most of them are spiritual and otherworldly. However, I think we set up young aspiring ministers for failure when we fail to prepare them for the realities of ministry. Ninety-nine percent of ministry is not glamorous or exciting.
Make sure you have a genuine calling and unshakable burden before you enter the ministry.
I should begin by expressing my sympathy to victims of genuine church hurt. It’s easy for me to empathize because I too, have been hurt by “church” people. I’ve seen heroes up close only to find they were much less heroic than expected. I’ve watched in shock as brothers and sisters in the Lord acted more like devilish pawns in a cosmic game of chess. I’ve often felt lonely trying to do the right thing. Doing the right thing commonly goes unappreciated (or at least under-appreciated) and the unfairness of that can produce toxic levels of bitterness.
Regardless, not one of the above mentioned things even slightly impacts my relationship with God or my commitment to righteousness. Still, church hurt seems to be the excuse of choice for backsliders, backstabbers, backbiters, and rabid bitterness these days. However, any excuse leading to self-justification rather than godly justification is spiritual suicide.
One of the great dangers Christians face is the temptation to justify their own bad behavior because of someone else’s sin. Just because they’re drinking poison doesn’t mean you should too. Just because someone else is evil doesn’t excuse your favorite flavor of sin.
Whether you’ve been hurt, let down, disappointed, disillusioned, or downright persecuted your duty to God never changes.
In fact, Jesus even told us outright persecution and disdain would be something His followers should expect to face (Matthew 5:10-12, Luke 6:22). If Jesus had a Judas why wouldn’t you? It wasn’t Pilot the pagan who wanted Jesus dead it was the high priest Caiaphas who plotted His crucifixion. Truly, Jesus faced far more hurt from His own people than from the pagan world.
Church hurt is very real, and it should be prevented whenever possible. But in reality, if you live for God long enough a wolf in sheep’s clothing is going to take a bite out of you. But I’d rather suffer persecution and be right with God than gain the whole world and lose my soul (Mark 8:36).
Honestly, the logic of leaving church altogether because someone hurt me is just plain flawed. Do we quit a great job because of one bad coworker? Do we abandon our dream home because of one bad neighbor? Do we stop being Americans because of bad Americans? Do we stop going to our favorite coffee shop because of a rude barista? If we left every place or institution that hurt us at some point we just couldn’t go anywhere – including our homes!
If we dig right down to the nitty gritty many are using church hurt as an excuse to do what they already wanted to do in their hearts; backslide. Furthermore, much of what some are calling church hurt is really just an easily offended spirit (Proverbs 19:11, Ecclesiastes 7:21-22, James 1:19, Luke 7:23, 2 Timothy 2:24).
Correction is not church hurt. Disagreement is not church hurt. Oversight is not church hurt. Having your talents overlooked is not church hurt. Someone frowning at you is not church hurt. Strong preaching is not church hurt. Snowflake “Christians” are melting and calling the sun evil! Ironically, they usually end up hurting people while pointing to their hurt as justification for their bad behavior. It’s a smokescreen shieldIng their own carnality and spiritual immaturity.
Again, it grieves me to hear about Christians hurting Christians. We should be known by our love for one another (John 13:35). There’s nothing friendly about friendly fire! And yes, there are legitimate reasons to leave a church. Yes. There are times you have to expose a well disguised wolf in sheep’s clothing. Sometimes you have to find a safer spiritual environment. But abandoning Truth because of hurt makes absolutely no sense at all. It’s like jumping off a bridge because someone pushed you to the ground or cutting off your foot because someone stepped on your toes.
Actually, the real problem here is relationship. No. Not relationships between brothers and sisters in the Lord. The problem is real relationship with God. You see, our relationship with God isn’t predicated on how others behave. I serve the Lord because He is my savior. Whatever others decide to do doesn’t change what Jesus has done for me. God’s Word doesn’t change because someone else failed.
Sometimes we serve God with the help of others and sometimes we serve God in spite of others. Either way, God is still God and He is always good.
The Psalmist spoke to this very issue when he said, “Great peace have those who love thy law; nothing can make them stumble (Psalm 119:165)”. Deeply loving the Lord and His Word will keep you from stumbling, mumbling, and bumbling when people let you down.
Church hurt doesn’t excuse backsliding. Jesus didn’t call angels to take him off the cross because He loves us! Our crosses, no matter how difficult to endure, should never cause us to abandon our Savior who suffered for us.
Like so many things in Scripture, we can trace much of theology all the way back to the book of Genesis. Self-idolatry or self-worship is no exception. The serpent enticed Eve with words of self-exaltation: “For God doth know that in the day ye eat thereof, then your eyes shall be opened, and ye shall be as gods…” (Genesis 3:5). Becoming a god unto ourselves has always been the greatest temptation that Satan lays before humankind. He subtly emboldens us to take authority that belongs to God into our own hands. We often define this as rebellion, but it is far more than just rebellion, it is self-idolatry.
In essence, anything that comes between us and the one true God is idolatry (1 Corinthians 10:7-22). Or, we could narrow it down even further and say that anything we love more than the Lord is an idol. God demands that we offer ourselves to Him as living sacrifices for His glory (Romans 12:1-2). Anything that hinders that self-sacrifice becomes idolatrous.
The Idolatry of Godless Wisdom
Leaning on our own wisdom is another form of self-idolatry (Romans 1:20-25). Paul speaks of those who hold the truth in unrighteousness (Romans 1:18). They literally suppress the truth with their own sense of self-righteousness. This kind of self-idolatry leads to worthless thinking and God eventually gives this type of person over to complete foolishness and depravity (Romans 1:21-30).
An Idolatrous Conundrum!
Psalm 115 is probably the most poetically profound condemnation of idolatry found in Scripture. In an epic biblical smackdown, the psalmist describes idols as useless and those who make them and trust them as being just as ridiculous (Psalm 115:4-8). In other words, idolators become eerily like their idols. They make the idols and become like their own creation. They trust in idols and become like the demonic idols they trust. This begs the question: Are self-idolators really worshipping themselves? Or, have they just worshipped another idol for so long they have become like the ungodly object of their affection?
Either way, it would be wise for us all to recognize the signs of self-idolatry and remove any hint of it that might be found in our hearts.
10 Signs You Might Be Guilty of Self-Idolatry
You search you heart before you search the Bible (Jeremiah 17:9, Psalm 18:30).
Your feelings matter more to you than your faithfulness (Proverbs 28:26, Luke 12:42).
You are overly obsessed with outward beauty and vanity (Jeremiah 4:30, Proverbs 31:30, Galatians 5:19-30, 1 Peter 3:3-4, 1 Timothy 2:9-10, Deuteronomy 22:5, Leviticus 19:28, Isaiah 3:16-26, Exodus 20:26).
You crave flattery but recoil at conviction (Proverbs 27:6).
You lack compassion for those less fortunate than you (Colossians 3:12).
You maintain a double standard; you consider some things acceptable for you but not for others (Proverbs 20:10, Romans 2:11).
You use and manipulate people while simulataniously wanting their admiration (Luke 11:42).
Your prayers are primarily focused on your own wants and needs; you rarely pray selflessly for others (Philippians 2:3-4).
You view church as being all about your blessing; your opinions, wants, and needs are always the main focus (Philippians 2:3-4).
Idolatry Inside the Church
I know some of you are thinking that idolatry is an outside problem. No. The worst versions of idolatry are inside problems: Inside the “saints” and inside the Church. If you study the Old and the New Testaments you find that the most grievous forms of idolatry came from within the camps of God’s own people. It’s time to stop viewing idolatry as a problem far removed from the Church or something that was just an Old Testament problem. Idolatry is alive and well today. Thankfully, God is still on the throne and He still draws near to those who seek Him and Him alone (James 4:8).
I recently finished a book by Mark Batterson entitled Whisper. Batterson is best known for authoring TheCircle Maker, a tremendous book on prayer. Whisper, however, zeros in on the necessity of hearing the gentle voice of God. What good is prayer if we never bother to listen? What good is begging God to speak if we do not know how to hear His response? Whisper, is well worth the read.
This is not a regurgitation of that tremendous book. Rather, the book caused me to consider how often we long to hear the seemingly silent voice of God. How many times have we desperately longed to know the will of God, and coveted the voice of God?
The reality is that God rarely refuses to respond. We are simply incapable of hearing His voice. What if you could hear the voice of God right now? Would you be willing to remove the distractions and the competing voices? What if God is whispering the answer to your prayer right now, but you just don’t know how to listen properly? I believe, in most instances, this is indeed the case.
Scripture teaches us that even the heavens declare the glory of God (Psalm 19:1-6). There are over ten references to God speaking in Genesis chapter 1 alone. God literally spoke the world into existence and He is not mysteriously silent today. With that in mind, below are six reasons we often can’t hear what God is saying to us.
We mistake the voice of God for someone or something else (1 Samuel 3:1-11).
When young Samuel heard the voice of God in the middle of the night he assumed it was Eli the priest calling. God spoke to Samuel three times before Eli realized God was trying to speak to Samuel. Because Samuel was submitted to the man of God he received instruction on how to hear and respond to the voice of God. Many people never learn to communicate with God because they are not submitted to a man of God.
We run from the flames rather than towards them (Exodus 3:1-12).
When the Lord decided to speak to Moses He sent a sign in the wilderness. God caused a bush to blaze with fire but not to be consumed. But it was not until Moses walked towards the flame that God spoke. Beyond that, God refused to speak again until Moses had removed his sandals in honor of holy ground.
Many today turn their back on the fires of the Holy Ghost and miss what God desires to speak into their lives. Others, walk towards the flames but refuse to surrender themselves to purity and holiness.
We are too busy talking to hear the voice of God (Psalm 4:4, Proverbs 10:8).
Many Christians know the importance of talking to God but fail to listen to God. They petition but they never position themselves to hear his response. They cry out to God but they complain rather than calmly listen for His reply.
We are too busy listening to other voices (Mark 4:9).
Many pray and then run around seeking advice from the closest person they can find. They speak with confidants and friends looking for a word from God. They trust that God will speak to someone else on their behalf, but not that He will speak to their heart. They listen to everything and everyone, but God.
In modern culture, we are surrounded by constant noises and inundated by media. Our headphones are on and the volume is turned up to the max. We are addicted to our phones and glued to our devices. The news cycle is twenty-four hours a day seven days a week. We listen and listen and listen to every voice and sound but ignore God. The Lord is not silent, but we are too loud.
We neglect His Word and the preaching of the word (Luke 11:28, Psalm 119:11, Psalm 119:105).
God has already spoken unalterably through His Word. God chooses to speak according to His Word through the preaching of His Word. God interacts with us as we interact with the Bible. God speaks to us through the preaching of the Word. God speaks to us through righteous men. When we are submitted to the Word and the preached Word we will be positioned to personally hear His voice.
We don’t recognize God’s voice because we are a goat, not a sheep (John 10:27-28, John 8:47).
The Lord’s sheep hear His voice and they follow him. God is constantly speaking to His people. Many can’t hear or recognize His voice because they have become goats. Only sheep can hear the Shephard’s voice. Only repentance will allow them to hear Him once again.
Humility is one of those extremely difficult things to teach, write, or speak about because anything said sounds exceedingly… shall we say, not humble? I’ve written rather sterilely about humility here, here, and here. However, looking back the realization washes over me that I was writing theoretically from head knowledge rather than from practical experience. To be plain, I was pridefully writing about the importance of humility.
Arrogance is an interesting component of the human experience. For example, there is a mythological nearly universally held belief that arrogance is exclusive to the rich, the powerful, the famous, the intelligent, and the beautiful. This is not so, pride is not a respecter of persons and it will happily ensnare the poor, the weak, the silly, the obscure, the ugly, and the witless.
Most alarmingly, pride initially creeps into a heart like undetected cancer, attacking the healthy cells and gradually gaining greater and greater control. Like cancer, many suffer from pride long before they realize it is even in their system. The longer pride has been allowed to fester without confrontation the more intensive the treatment process becomes. Furthermore, the certainty of a complete recovery becomes less and less assured as pride silently attacks more and more vital areas of the soul. Early detection can mean the difference between spiritual destruction and deliverance.
Without being too personal, this past year (really longer) has been the most painful season of my entire life. Agonizing pain, absolute rejection, abject betrayal, and total disappointment leave an individual with a profound sense of powerlessness. The desperation that ensues leaves literally no room for pride. In fact, it’s almost as if God surgically removed every cancerous tumor of pride from my soul without warning or anesthesia. At first, I treated God like I treated my heart doctor as a child being prepped for a fourth open heart surgery. “Why are you hurting me?” I’d shout indignantly towards the heavens. God responded just like that doctor, “I’m trying to save your life, but the process is painful.”
There are two spiritual results of humility that we typically fail to notice. One, genuine humility produces a desperation that encourages complete dependence upon God. Two, desperation and complete dependence upon God set the stage for a freakish (almost nonsensical) level of faith that activates the miraculous.
Oddly, humility and desperation are much closer cousins than we typically realize. And, humility and desperation are the foundation of almost every major miracle described in the Bible.
Recently, a respected friend enlightened my thinking regarding a perplexing faith enigma in the ministry of Elijah. The enigma is this: Why would Elijah have the faith to confront the prophets of Baal and call down fire from Heaven only to flee from Jezebel and sink into suicidal despair moments later? What changed? Why the drastic difference from one moment to the next? I believe there are two reasons, but I’ll only share one now and I’ll save the second reason for another article. We tend to think of Elijah’s showdown on the mountain as an act of confident superhuman faith. But, I think the text and the context support the thesis that Elijah was acting out of an absolute dependence that gave him no choice but to put his faith completely in God. In other words, Elijah reached a place of such deep desperation that he realized God was either going to do it or he was going to die praying for God to do it.
It is not paradoxical to say that faith and despair are tightly connected in the realm of the miraculous. God does not respect desperation without faith, but faith without desperation is rarely genuine faith. I know, that takes a minute to get your head around, but Scripture overwhelmingly supports this concept. Psychologically speaking, the connection between desperation and the miraculous makes a great deal of sense. We do things we would never otherwise do when we are dangling from the end of our rope looking down at the jagged rocks below. When we have nothing left to lose and everything to gain, we become willing to do what God has been telling us to do all along. Tepid levels of faith resist the voice of God when it thinks it still has other valid “less crazy” options.
Scripture emphasizes how the woman with the issue of blood had spent everything she had and tried all the “reasonable” avenues before desperately touching the hem of Jesus’ garment.
Peter had nothing to lose when he stepped out onto the water. If Jesus didn’t intervene he was likely going to die anyway. So, he literally stepped out onto the sea with desperation induced faith.
When Moses stretched out that rod towards the Red Sea he really had no other choice but trust God or die.
Every leper that Jesus healed was already an outcast and freak in society so they had nothing to lose by running to Jesus.
What did blind Bartimaeus have to lose by ignoring the critics and screaming for Jesus to stop and have mercy upon his situation? He had nothing to lose and everything to gain.
Three and a half years of drought. No revival or repentance. Elijah was lonely, righteously indignant, and bone tired. Those were the perfect ingredients for a freakish act of faith like publicly calling down fire from the sky. Sometimes it really does take a certain level of indifference towards the miracle. An attitude of almost spiritual recklessness that says, “Lord I’m trusting you with the impossible, and if I end up looking foolish… who cares!”
Think of the humility it took for the three Hebrew boys to say, “God is able to save us from the fiery furnace, but even if He doesn’t we will not bow to the king’s idol.” Almost every major act of faith comes down to the willingness to do something utterly crazy believing that God can do anything, but inwardly determining that even if God doesn’t you will still do the right thing. It’s nearly impossible to have that mindset until every drop of pride has been drained from your soul.
Freakish faith and desperate dilemmas are almost inseparable. You’ll likely never tell a mountain to move out of the way in Jesus’ name unless you are desperate beyond words to get to the other side. You won’t pick up your bed and walk until you stop caring what people think about you. You won’t let Jesus rub mud and spit in your blind eyes until your pride is dead.
Prideful prayers don’t move God. Prideful praise offends God. But humble, desperate, freakish faith calls down fire and closes the mouths of lions. And just when everyone thinks your freakish faith has finally gotten you killed, you will answer from the pit like Daniel:
“…O king, live forever. My God hath sent his angel, and hath shut the lions’ mouths, that they have not hurt me: forasmuch as before him innocency was found in me; and also before thee, O king, have I done no hurt. Then was the king exceedingly glad for him, and commanded that they should take Daniel up out of the den. So Daniel was taken up out of the den, and no manner of hurt was found upon him, because he believed in his God (Daniel 6:21-23).”
Arguably, pastor’s wives are the most under-appreciated, stereotyped, overworked, unpaid people within any church paradigm. Pastor’s wives are especially vulnerable to criticism, attack, disrespect, and general impoliteness. And we aren’t even talking about the stresses her husband faces that bleed over into their marriage.
Far too often, Pastor’s wives live under the umbrella of insinuated and sometimes overtly stated congregational demands. Unrealistic expectations abound along with contradictory requests that defy logic. Dress to perfection, raise impeccable children, always smile, be the church secretary, have unlimited time for everyone, lead every ladies ministry, attend every nuanced church function, host lavishly, entertain pleasantly, sing, play an instrument, teach Sunday School, be the ideal wife to the pastor, remember every detail, work, clean, organize, decorate the church, keep a model home, babysit, teach, and in some cases they are expected (or forced by necessity) to work a secular job as well.
Pastor’s wives dwell in a glass house and live with the constant realization that their every move is scrutinized. Beyond that, they are criticized by people with opposing judgments. For example, if they dress too fancy they are unapproachable, but if they dress too plain they are embarrassing. Those same conflated standards are usually applied to their house, their car, and their children’s clothing. Furthermore, if they lead too many programs they are accused of not making room for other leaders, but if they don’t lead enough programs they aren’t pulling their weight according to the critics. This is especially true if they are musical. Most of this negative information is filtered back to pastor’s wives via the “well-meaning” grapevine.
To be clear, there are blessings and benefits that come along with being a pastor’s wife. In ideal situations, they are treated with extra courtesy, respect, kindness, generosity, grace, understanding, and consideration.
Usually, there is a mixed bag of goodness from some and ugliness from others towards the pastor’s wife. Hopefully, kindness outweighs the critical or tremendous emotional pain is inflicted on her heart. It goes without saying, this will also adversely impact her husband’s ability to minister effectively.
The spoken and unspoken pressures take a toll. Usually with very little external evidence. I’ve spent my whole life in and around ministry so I know this to be true instinctively, however, surveyscorroborate my anecdotal experiences.
Most of this tension comes from a general lack of biblical understanding regarding pastor’s wives. Furthermore, I believe this stems from the startling reality that the Bible has almost nothing to say directly about the role of a pastor’s wife. Leaving many to simply insert their own version of what they believe a pastor’s wife should be into their churches culture, structure, and tradition. This creates a rigid performance template that many pastor’s wives find soul-crushing because it doesn’t take their individual giftings into consideration.
Although the Bible doesn’t provide explicit teaching directed to the role of pastor’s wife, it does not deny a pastor’s wife a ministry role within the church. Certainly, there are other important ministry roles in local churches that the Bible doesn’t spell out instructions for, like Outreach Director, Youth Pastor, Sunday School Director, or Children’s Ministry Director just to name a few.
The Biblical role of being a pastor’s wife is best understood from what Scripture teaches about being a woman, a wife and mother, and a Christ-follower with God-given gifts.
Biblically speaking, a pastor’s wife’s main role is to be the wife of the pastor. I know, that sounds a little too simplistic, but that is her first role in God’s eyes.
“And the Lord God said, It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him an help meet for him. (Genesis 2:18)”
“Therefore shall a man leave his father and his mother, and shall cleave unto his wife: and they shall be one flesh. (Genesis 2:24)”
In Hebrew, the word for “helper” used in Genesis 2:18 is ezer (pronounced “ay-zer”), and it is always used in the Old Testament in the context of vitally important and powerful acts of rescue and support. The majority of its twenty-one occurrences in the Old Testament depict God helping human beings. Since God Himself can be a “helper” it is clear that neither the word ezer nor the role of “helper” implies any sort of inherent inferiority (Exodus 18:4, Deuteronomy 33:7, Psalm 33:20, Hosea 13:9). What it does imply is that the “helper” plays a supporting role, rather than bearing primary responsibility for a task.
In the Hebrew text, “helper” is modified by the “suitable for him” (kenegdo), which seems to express the notion of complementarity rather than identity. The help looked for is not just assistance in his daily work or in the procreation of children, though these aspects may be included, but the mutual support companionship provides. The word denotes function: Designed as the perfect counterpart for the man, the woman was neither inferior nor superior, but she was alike and equal to the man in her personhood while different and unique in her function. The function of Eve is not less valuable to the maintenance of the Garden or to the furthering of humankind, but the shared responsibilities involve each accomplishing complimentary tasks.
The usage of the Hebrew term ezer denotes far more than the English term helper can offer. The term indicates an “indispensable companion”. Defining the specific divinely inspired purpose for a woman is vital for understanding her role as a wife because the two are unmistakably intertwined.
In light of Genesis 2:18, a pastor’s wife is called to be an indispensable companion and helper to her husband. Meaning, the role of a pastor’s wife will gradate based on the particular strengths, needs, and personalities of the couple (read more about pastoral personalities and styles here).
Of course, a pastor’s wife must adhere to the same biblical standards as all other Christian women. She serves God and family while leading in various influential roles (Proverbs 31:10-31). Her virtue is praiseworthy (Proverbs 31:28-31). Most importantly, she is one who “fears the Lord” (Proverbs 31:30). Because she reverences the Lord she will walk in the “beauty of holiness” (Psalm 96:9). Godly women must be “given to hospitality” (1 Peter 4:9). She must “walk in the Spirit” and not the flesh (Romans 8:1).
Now that we have a basic biblical understanding of womanhood we can discuss nine ways to support your local pastor’s wife.
1. Graciously allow her to prioritize her family. Although she loves you and cares for your soul the needs of her family are and should be her primary concern. Don’t resent her for concentrating on the needs of her family above yours.
2. Appreciate her for who she is in Christ. Avoid the painful trap of comparison. God has given her gifts and abilities that are specific to her and her alone. Don’t constantly hold her up against someone else or against some elusive idea of the perfect pastor’s wife.
3. Celebrate her strengths and be understanding of her weaknesses. She strives for perfection and excellence, but like everyone else, she will not always obtain it. Rather than exploit or criticize her weaknesses do your best to lift burdens off her shoulders that do not fall within her areas of expertise.
4. Give her the benefit of the doubt just as you would have others do for you (Luke 6:31).
6. Do not belittle or speak critically about her husband to her or anyone else. If you have a problem with the pastor speak with the pastor.
7. Refuse to speak critically about her behind her back. If someone else tries to engage in negativity kindly remove yourself from the conversation. Idle words almost always filter back to the offended party. If you have a legitimate grievance, constructive suggestion, or concern broach it with her privately.
8. Advocate on her behalf and speak positively into her life at every possible opportunity. I promise you, she doesn’t receive nearly as much positive affirmation as you might assume. Choose to be an encourager, not a discourager.
9. Pray for her on a regular basis and intercede with God to give her strength. Your prayer cover will have a tremendous spiritual impact on her heart (Ephesians 6:18).
By supporting your pastor’s wife you are creating an atmosphere of peace and unity. It encourages your pastor and gives him a sense of stability. All of this contributes to a climate of revival and goodwill. God will bless you because you are a blessing (Proverbs 11:25).
American preachers don’t receive much up-front, in-your-face rejection. Sure, the occasional person might get up and walk out during a sermon. People walk in and out so much during preaching these days it’s hard to know if they are upset or just running to the water fountain.
People who study these things are finding that if someone walks through the doors of your church they have already researched your beliefs online pretty thoroughly. Meaning, if they were really likely to be overtly offended they probably just wouldn’t attend in the first place.
While people may not be throwing rotten eggs at us, preachers do experience rejection in more indirect ways. The visitor who never returns. The saints who skip across town because we refuse to reinterpret the Bible for their favorite sin. The subtle crossed arms and slanted eyebrows that glare back at us while preaching a particularly convicting passage of Scripture. The tragic altar call where the sinner leans back rather than running to repent. Passive aggressive anonymous letters of disapproval.
Experienced preachers develop the ability to glance around a congregation and discern immediately who is rejecting and who is receiving the message God has given them for that service. That ability can become either a motivation, a distraction, or a discouragement. In worst case scenarios, one person rejecting the Word can mentally overshadow a room full of people who are receiving the Word with gladness.
Frankly, there are times after preaching that I leave incredibly discouraged because I couldn’t reach that one person. That preoccupation sometimes keeps me from rejoicing over other lives that were deeply touched by God.
I was discussing this weakness in my personality with a friend recently and he promptly dropped a little conviction grenade right into my psychological bunker. He said, “Ryan, don’t you hear the arrogance in your statement?” I was a little stunned and self-righteous until he repeated my words back verbatim, “…I leave incredibly discouraged because I couldn’t reach…” Then he paused and let the grenade explode, “Ryan you’re saying a lot of me’s and I’s, don’t you know that you just plant the seed and God gives the increase?”
How quickly preachers can forget that we are just the messengers. We aren’t the attraction. Sometimes we are a distraction, but we certainly are not the attraction. The Word is the seed and all we can do is cast the seed and pray that it takes root on good ground (Matthew 13:1-23). Often my discouragement is rooted in my own hubris rather than anything truly sincere. Don’t get me wrong, I want to preach as compellingly as possible. I want to be persuasive like the apostle Paul and passionate like the apostle Peter. But in the end, my abilities can’t save a single soul.
The apostle Paul taught that we are simply ambassadors of Jesus Christ (2 Corinthians 5:20). We represent reconciliation between God and man (2 Corinthians 5:19). We speak on behalf of God. The message is not ours. The Gospel was not our idea. It’s not a commodity with a sales quota attached. When the Word is rejected they aren’t rejecting us they are rejecting Jesus.
Jesus knew that His ambassadors would be tempted to judge the success or failure of ministry by the metric of popularity. He knew that rejection would feel like a personal failure. He knew that we would struggle with our own unique blends of pride and insecurity. He knew that we would be prone to despiritualizing the Gospel and relegating it down to humanistic abilities. So, Jesus gathered the twelve disciples together and sat them down to tell them, and by extension us, when they reject you they are really rejecting Me. Look at this uncomfortable reminder from Jesus:
“Blessed are they which are persecuted for righteousness’ sake: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are ye, when men shall revile you, and persecute you, and shall say all manner of evil against you falsely, for my sake. Rejoice, and be exceeding glad: for great is your reward in heaven: for so persecuted they the prophets which were before you (Matthew 5:10-12).”
You can’t be truly Christlike unless you are willing to suffer rejection for His sake. In fact, if you haven’t been rejected or reviled in a while you’re probably not a true ambassador.
Please don’t take me out of context, I’m not advocating running around trying to prove how spiritual we are based on how many people reject the Gospel. But it is freeing to know that as ambassadors we can only proclaim what we have been given by our King to proclaim. If we are rejected it is for His sake, and we must shake the dust from our feet (Matthew 10:5-15) and keep preaching the Good News.
“How then shall they call on him in whom they have not believed? and how shall they believe in him of whom they have not heard? and how shall they hear without a preacher? And how shall they preach, except they be sent? as it is written, How beautiful are the feet of them that preach the gospel of peace, and bring glad tidings of good things (Romans 10:14-15)!”
C.S. Lewis opens his classic work The Screwtape Letters with the tale of a fictitious demon named Screwtape detailing how he successfully kept “his patient (i.e. a mere human)” out of the clutches of “the Enemy (i.e. God)”. Screwtape is teaching an underling demon named Wormwood the art of keeping mankind distracted from the reality of God and that pesky thing called Truth. He cautions Wormwood away from arguing with his human “patient” because arguing promotes reasoning, and reasoning leads to logic, and logic ultimately leads to God. Screwtape slyly writes:
“By the very act of arguning, you awake the patient’s reason; and once it is awake, who can foresee the result? Even if a particular train of thought can be twisted so as to end in our favor, you will find that you have been strengthening in your patient the fatal habit of attending to universal issues and withdrawing his attention from the stream of immediate sense experiances. Your business is to fix his attention on the stream.”
Screwtape goes on to describe a scenario where one of his atheist patients once began seriously considering the reality of God while reading quietly in a museum. He gloatingly writes:
“Before I knew where I was I saw my twenty years’ work beginning to totter. If I had lost my head and begun to attempt a defence by argument I should have been undone. But I was not such a fool. I struck instantly at the part of the man which I had best under my control and suggested that it was just about time he had lunch.”
Lewis was creatively describing the satanic art of distraction, misdirection, and the subtle use of the mundane as a diversionary tactic. Lewis approached the issue from the standpoint of an atheist being demonically distracted from facing the reality of God. Likewise, I see this same demonic strategy being used against unwitting Christians with alarming frequency. Remember, Lewis wrote The Screwtape Letters in 1942, long before the advent of uber mundane distraction devices otherwise known as smartphones.
I realize that life is hectic, complicated, and a little overwhelming at times. It can be difficult to find time for prayer, busy church schedules, personal Bible study, devotions, and meditating on deep spiritual gems. In theory, most Christians genuinely want to grow deeper in their relationship with God. Yet, they get carried away by what Screwtape called, “the immediate stream of sense experiences”.
How many times have you been on the verge of bowing down to pray only to be interrupted by the ding, ding of an incoming text message? How many times have you looked over during a powerful sermon only to see your neighbor actively scrolling through their uber mundane distraction device otherwise known as a smartphone? How many times has something as trivial as eating dinner kept you from a church service?
I realize there are acceptable distractions; we have to work, we have to eat, we have to relax, and we have to sleep. But if you watch you will begin to notice little ordinary diversions that slip into your mind unexpectedly just as God is calling you to a moment of communion and Divine contemplation. Perhaps, these are not all demonically inspired as Lewis seems to suggest, however, they certainly impede our spiritual progress.
I’ve been picking on cell phones, probably because that’s my Achilles’ heel, but your Trojan horse (I might as well keep opening Pandora’s box of metaphors) might be something more like Edmund’s Turkish delight. For those who aren’t familiar with Lewis’ most commercially successful work, The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, Edmund is a young boy who happens across an evil White Witch in the mythical land of Narnia. She skillfully distracts him from her evil intentions with delicious morsels of Turkish delight.
That’s the thing about distractions; by themselves, they’re usually not all that sinister. There’s nothing inherently evil about Turkish delight. Although, I’ve tried it and it really is quite dreadful tasting. Regardless, cell phones aren’t evil. But if they keep us distracted from what Lewis called “the universal issues” they suddenly become nefarious. Your Turkish delight might be a job, a hobby, a relationship, video games (check out this disturbing article about male millennials and video games), sports, or whatever else casually draws your attention away from eternal Truths.
Even serving others can become a distraction if it’s not done properly. Luke 10:38-42 records the story of Jesus visiting Martha’s house. Naturally, He began teaching and instinctively Martha’s sister Mary abandoned her chores to sit at His feet. This placed the responsibility of providing a meal and making sure the house was in order solely on Martha’s shoulders. The ESV correctly states that Martha was “distracted with much serving” while Jesus was teaching. Evidently, a resentment towards Mary began to grow in Martha’s heart. She was working. She was serving. She was ministering to people’s needs while Mary was sitting at Jesus’ feet.
Finally, all that pent-up frustration was directed towards Jesus:
“Lord, dost thou not care that my sister hath left me to serve alone? Bid her therefore that she help me (Luke 10:40).”
But Jesus gently admonished her saying:
“…Martha, Martha, thou art careful and troubled about many things: But one thing is needful: and Mary hath chosen that good part, which shall not be taken away from her (Luke 10:41-42).”
Even our best intentions can become a distraction from the actual words of Jesus. Preachers can get so caught up in service they forget what really matters. Church singers and musicians can get so distracted ministering in music they become oblivious to the Word that is going forth. This is true in various different ways for all of us who are busy serving the Lord. So, the next time you find yourself being pulled away from the voice of the Lord, intentionally choose the good part, and don’t let anything take it away from you (Luke 10:42).
My kids inherited their daddy’s deep love for music. Unfortunately, they’re also picky and opinionated about the music we listen to on a regular basis (also something they inherited from me). My iron-fisted reign over the music played in the car is being overthrown a little more each day. Complicating things even further, my kids aren’t in total unity about which songs are “super great”. So, when they both really like a particular singer a little shred of heavenly peace fills our daily commutes.
Recently, we accidentally discovered Matthew West, a Christian solo artist. His lyrics are godly and the kids are wild about it. Julia loves Becoming Me and Talmadge thinks Amen is the anthem of the ages. After about a week straight of playing the “Anthem of the Ages” and the “Sweetest Song Ever Penned” I simply couldn’t take it anymore. It turns out, you can have too much of a good thing. So today, I gathered the kiddos around my outdated iPhone, fired up the iTunes store and started sifting through all the Matthew West songs available. Fifteen dollars bought us all a little much-needed peace and sanity.
For those that don’t know, when you’re searching for music on the iTunes store it allows you to listen to short clips of the songs before making a purchase. This had my kids up in arms. They reasoned that people can’t possibly decide if they like a song in just a few seconds. Which is kinda true. Their recommendation was to just buy every song, but Matthew West has a big musical portfolio and that was out of the question. So, we settled for doing our best to sort out which songs we truly enjoyed with limited information.
This whole process conjured up all kinds of happy memories from my childhood. Memories I happily shared with my kids. They were shocked to hear that in the good old days you couldn’t buy one song at a time and store them on your phone. They gasped at the concept of having to buy an entire CD and needed a detailed explanation of the word cassette tape. My eyes probably shined with joy telling stories of running into the Family Christian Store to buy the newest Steven Curtis Chapman album and listening to the entire thing from beginning to end. Not only would I listen to every word of every song, I’d open that slipcover and read all the lyrics, credits, and thank you’s too. Yep. Those are some of my favorite childhood memories.
Those days are long gone. The only album I’ve purchased in full in the last several years is this one – and you should too. In fact, people typically buy one song per album. Usually, it’s a song they heard on the radio and anyone with any musical taste knows the radio hit is rarely the best song on the album (told you I was musically opinionated). We miss so much great music in the age of iTunes, Spotify, Pandora, and whatever the other newfangled digital platform is ascending nowadays. We bypass wonderful songs because the little five-second clip doesn’t do it justice. We totally ignore songs because they’re not on the local Christian radio charts. Charts that increasingly seem to only have about five songs in rotation.
I may be pining for the old days now but in reality, I love the convenience of not carrying 300 CD’s around in my car. Also, it’s nice having all my music available at the touch of a button. Music is much cheaper when you aren’t forced to buy the entire album. In other words, there’s no going back now. And musically speaking, maybe that’s fine.
Every cultural revolution and technological advancement has unintended (or at least corresponding) sociological consequences. For example, many people approach the Bible like an iTunes playlist. They get little biblical snippets here and there, mostly from easily accessible digital sources. They’re familiar with the top ten Bible verses, but rarely know the context or framework of their favorite scriptures. Their theology and resulting understanding of the Gospel is based on sound clips and abbreviated versions that sound great but lack depth and richness. This is evidenced by nationwide lagging attendance during midweek Bible study services. And further demonstrated by Christians who lack transformation and basic biblical knowledge. For unbelievers, they see and hear the lack of mainstream Christianity’s depth and want nothing to do with that slick, naive, cheap, polished brand of empty believe-ism.
It’s not possible to pick and choose the “highlights” or the “best of” moments of the Bible and leave the rest out. Jesus put it this way: “Man shall not live by bread alone but by every word the proceeds out of the mouth of God (Matthew 4:4).” Many churches are filled with sincere unsaved people who have not truly obeyed God’s Word because they unwittingly settled for an iTunes version of the Gospel. And the world is full of people who have rejected the iTunes version of the Gospel because they easily recognized it as inconsistent, indefensible, and unsatisfying. You see, cheapening the Gospel doesn’t make it more palatable, it actually renders it worthless to the world. A little fly in the perfume gives the whole bottle a bad smell (Ecclesiastes 10:1).
The saving power of the Gospel is more than mental assent, a moment of sincere belief, or an ecstatic emotional experience. Simply stated, the Gospel is the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus. Before you can even enter into the plan of salvation you must believe that God exists and that He is a rewarder of them that diligently seek him (Hebrews 11:6). Many people believe in the idea of God but reject Jesus. But to embrace the Gospel we first must believe that Jesus Christ is both Lord and Savior (Acts 16:31, John 3:18, John 4:42).
At the heart of the Gospel is the teaching that we must undergo our own spiritual death, burial, and resurrection just as Jesus did physically (Romans 6:3-8, Galatians 2:20, Colossians 2:12-13). There is one recorded instance in the Bible where bystanders clearly asked a question about salvation (Acts 2:37). Peter gives the most concise biblical answer in the following verse and everyone in the early Church followed that apostolic foundation for salvation. The apostle Peter preached: “…repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins and ye shall receive the gift of the Holy Ghost (Acts 2:38).” That precise formula is the only way to be birthed (John 3:3, 1 Peter 1:23) into the Kingdom of God.
Essentially, repentance is our spiritual death (Galatians 5:24, Romans 6:11, Galatians 2:20, 1 Peter 2:24, Romans 6:6), baptism in Jesus’ name is our spiritual burial (Romans 6:3-4, Colossians 2:12-13), and the infilling of the Holy Ghost is our spiritual resurrection (Romans 6:5, Colossians 3:1, Romans 8:8-14). Furthermore, the infilling of the Holy Ghost is first evidenced by supernaturally speaking in unknown (previously unlearned) tongues (languages) just as they did in the book of Acts (Mark 16:17, Acts 2:4, Acts 10:46, Acts 19:6) and every time from then on. And, baptism is only salvific when done in the name of Jesus (Acts 4:12, Colossians 3:17, Acts 2:38, Acts 22:16, Galatians 3:27, Acts 10:48, Romans 6:3).
After we are obedient to the fullness of the Gospel all the old sinful things pass away and we become a new creation in Christ Jesus (2 Corinthians 5:17). We walk in agreement with the Spirit (Galatians 5:16). Meaning, God not only saves us from our past sin, He empowers us with His own Spirit to live righteously (2 Peter 1:3-4). The extra good news of the Gospel is that God doesn’t just save us and leave us the same: He saves us, changes us, dwells within us, and continues to strengthen us daily. Now that’s really good news, and we’ve only scratched the surface of what it means to be transformed by the power of God.
I know that isn’t the slick version of the Gospel many people have seen on TV or heard on the radio. It doesn’t fit nicely on a bumper sticker. God didn’t design the Gospel to blend in with our overly commercialized culture. No. The Gospel is timeless, changeless, and sacred. Please don’t settle for an iTunes version of the Gospel that doesn’t save or satisfy.
As I write these words, we still know very little about the motives (aside from pure evil) that caused a lone gunman to rain a hailstorm of bullets on innocent victims in Las Vegas. America awaits with bated breath for any details that might bring clarity to the reasons behind the shooters sickening actions. Sadly, knowing the killer’s motivations (regardless of what they are) will be of no solace to those who lost loved ones Sunday night. Justifiably, the watching world craves some level of understanding going forward.
One thing is certain, nothing discovered will produce any satisfying revelations. By assessing motives, we desperately hope to discover an inoculation from individual acts of evil. Although, new laws may or may not make certain types of sickening inclinations more difficult to accomplish – laws do nothing to address the pervasive evil contained within the human heart.
Undoubtedly, consequences (legal and otherwise) intimidate many people into submission. However, threatened social consequences are only preemptively impactful to a certain point. Obviously, suicide bombers can’t be intimidated with loss of life over their actions. They give their lives willingly in the service of evil. Neither can a suicidal killer with hatred in his heart be thwarted by any punitive measures. A homicidal heart will find a way to commit murder regardless of the measures civil society takes. Please don’t misunderstand, preventative measures should be made when and where possible. It would be ludicrous for polite society to conclude that because rape can’t be totally eradicated we shouldn’t make every effort humanly possible to prevent and punish rape. Certainly, the same goes for murder whether it be mass murder or homicide in general.
Mass killings are a relatively new social manifestation of evil. While every society from the beginning of time (going all the way back to the biblical account of Genesis) has suffered the scourge of violence and homicidal hatred the particularly heinous rise of senseless mass murder is a distinctively modern problem. Since the dawn of so-called civilization, governments and power-hungry tyrants have slaughtered more innocents than historians can count. But otherwise average individuals killing innocent people they don’t even know (or barely know) en masse is terrifyingly unique.
The level of hatred required for this nightmarish breed of viciousness defies comprehension. Modern psychology views the origin of evil as a biological byproduct, rather than an outside force that impacts us biologically. Therefore, it only addresses the symptoms and remains incapable of correctly diagnosing the primary disease.
Evil is evil, and while individuals are responsible for their own actions, evil does not originate in the human psyche. It is always easier to relegate every depraved human action down to mental illness or madness. While mental illness is certainly a real problem, not all (or even most) mentally ill individuals commit horrific crimes. Just calling a killer mentally ill doesn’t explain away their actions or substantively address why one mentally ill person kills and another does not. We instinctively want to categorize evil as insanity, because it is too emotionally painful to imagine a sane person methodically killing dozens of people he’s never even met.
Mass shootings push the fallen nature of humankind out from the shadows into the piercing light of day. The naked evil and wicked capacity of the human heart causes us to blink and squint. We can’t look directly at it without excruciating pain. It’s not that evil things aren’t happening all around us every day – we just fail, or refuse to notice them. Those that do notice and comment, like the prophets of old, are labeled depressing, downers, boorish, buzz killers, alarmists, catastrophists, or some other condescending pejorative. But large-scale, in-your-face evil can’t be ignored, denied or minimized. So, we hunger for the elusive why behind the “madness”. Some point the finger of blame at God in these circumstances (here’s a great article on the origins of evil). But ultimately, evil is satanic in origin and embedded in the human condition. Therefore, human methodologies alone – no matter how well intentioned – will never eradicate evil from the human heart.
Because the fallen nature of humankind is vulnerable and consistently capable of awful behavior, Jesus instructed us to pray, “And do not lead us into temptation, but deliver us from evil… (Matthew 6:13).” I’ve often marveled at those who assert that God is not good while simultaneously asserting that humans are intrinsically good. I’m not sure you can read about events like the Las Vegas shooting and believe in the innate goodness of humanity.
Really facing the depravity of the human condition head-on is depressing and hard to grasp. The human heart is deceitful above all things and desperately wicked (Jeremiah 17:9). C.H. Spurgeon wrote, “As the salt flavors every drop in the Atlantic, so does sin affect every atom of our nature. It is so sadly there, so abundantly there, that if you cannot detect it, you are deceived.” He added: “The venom of sin is in the very fountain of our being; it has poisoned our heart. It is in the very marrow of our bones and is as natural to us as anything that belongs to us.” We inherited that sinful nature from the lineage of Adam (Romans 5:12). You can’t truly fathom the goodness of the Gospel until you grasp the depravity of the human condition. The Good News begins with bad news: All have sinned, and fallen short of the glory of God (Romans 3:23).
Thankfully, the Gospel story begins with condemnation but ends with redemption. In the weeks and months ahead, I have decided to write about the Gospel. This blog has failed in that mission so far. If you’re reading this and you feel hopeless please know there is hope. If you’re reading this and you know someone who feels hopeless please tell them about Jesus. Tell them how God wants to forgive their sins and fill them with His Spirit (Acts 2:38). Tell them how the same Spirit that raised Jesus from the dead can raise them above the hopelessness of sin (Romans 8:11). We can push back against the darkness by reaching one heart at a time with the truth of the Gospel. It’s the only hope for the human condition.
I recently published the 100th article here on Apostolic Voice. Considering AV launched in the summer of 2014 that number should be substantially higher. But I’m usually busier than Santa on Christmas Eve. In spite of my woefully slow output of material, we’ve covered quite a few topics over the years. It would take a newcomer several cups of coffee and multiple uninterrupted hours to read every AV article.
Leadership, including but not limited to pastoral leadership, is a topic that surfaces a good bit around here. In fact, it’s not unusual to receive requests for an old leadership article that someone wants to revisit but they can’t remember the exact title. In the interest of full disclosure and total transparency, I typically can’t remember my titles either. I can’t even remember what I ate for breakfast let alone something I wrote about two years ago. So, after rummaging around in the dark cavernous recesses of the AV vault I’ve rediscovered thirteen of the most requested leadership articles and niftily compiled them here for your reading convenience.
Much thanks to my friends and guest contributors whose articles made this list. Their written offerings are far superior to my own. Their contributions are appreciated, which is good because that’s their only remuneration. God bless and thanks for reading.
Whataboutism is an old word gaining fresh attention largely because of the obnoxious world of politics. Don’t worry, this isn’t a political post. Whataboutism is basically a debate technique that deflects criticism by pointing out the wrongdoings (whether real or perceived) of others.
Oxford Dictionaries defines it as “the technique or practice of responding to an accusation or difficult question by making a counter-accusation or raising a different issue.”
Essentially, whataboutism uses misdirection in the form of a rhetorical question. My kids use whataboutism all the time. Recently, while scolding my daughter because her room was a disaster she responded by asking, “What about Bubs?” At that point, she was smirking at the profundity of her own argument. She continued with what she considered to be the knockout punch, “You haven’t told him to clean his room, and it’s messier than mine.” And presto, she felt vindicated. In her mind, she had accomplished two things: 1) unveiled hypocrisy by pointing out a lack of consistency and 2) justified her own wrong behavior by focusing on her brother’s wrong behavior. In doing so, she was trying to evade the question and shift the blame.
Every kid I’ve ever known skillfully employs the whataboutism technique. I certainly did (I can hear my mother shouting “Amen”). It’s a childish artful dodge. And yet, whataboutism has become the rhetorical loophole of choice for adults who don’t want to discuss the merits of biblical morality. Whataboutism is the favorite self-justification of the average backslider. They shout, “What about all the Christian hypocrites?” And my response to them is the same response I gave my nine-year-old daughter, “Someone else’s wrongdoing doesn’t make your wrongdoing ok.”
As I’ve said before, many Christians embraced gay marriage because they saw Christians committing adultery, divorcing, and fornicating. They said and still say regularly, “You’re against gay marriage, but what about that TV preacher who cheated on his wife?” Well, what about it? Two things can be true at once: 1) homosexuality is a sin and 2) Christians can be sinful hypocrites. But finger pointing doesn’t make my sin or your sin somehow magically acceptable.
There’s an interesting case of whataboutism in the Bible involving David and his oldest brother Eliab (1 Samuel 17:22-29). David had just arrived at the battlefield with food for his brothers only to find the entire army of Israel hiding from Goliath. David started asking around about the situation. He rightfully felt indignation that a pagan giant was being allowed to defy the armies of the living God. But when Eliab overheard David’s questions he grew angry. Probably because he was feeling a surge of guilty humiliation. “What are you doing around here anyway?” he demanded. And then he dropped the hammer, “What about those few sheep you’re supposed to be watching?” And there it is, whataboutism on full display. Eliab didn’t stop there, “I know your pride and deceit. You just want to see the battle” he sputtered at his little brother.
Eliab resorted to a defensive posture when faced with his naked cowardice by insinuating that David was equally imperfect. He projected his own reprehensible character flaws onto his brother. Thankfully, David didn’t let that stop him from doing the right thing. Whataboutism always carries a whiff of resentment with a dash of accusation. If there isn’t any actual hypocrisy for a whataboutist to exploit they’ll simply make something up.
The argumentative whataboutism spirit of Eliab is alive and well today. Christians must resist the pressure to succumb to this toxic brand of self-justification. Jesus addressed the natural human desire to justify our bad behavior with someone else’s bad behavior. He said:
“Ye have heard that it hath been said, thou shalt love thy neighbor, and hate thine enemy. But I say unto you, love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you (Matthew 5:43-44).”
The message is clear, just because your enemy was hateful first doesn’t mean you get to be hateful too or excuse hatefulness in others. Jesus wasn’t a hypocrite either. He talked it and lived it. Speaking of Calvary, the Apostle Peter wrote:
“Who, when he was reviled, reviled not again; when he suffered, he threatened not; but committed himself to him that judgeth righteously: Who his own self bare our sins in his own body on the tree, that we, being dead to sins, should live unto righteousness… (1 Peter 2:23-24).”
Although unjustly judged, Jesus left his case in the hands of God who always judges fairly. The work of the cross gives us the opportunity to live unto righteousness. Christians are new creatures in Christ Jesus (2 Corinthians 5:17). That means we don’t get to play the whataboutism game. We don’t get to say, “They did it first!” In other words, we aren’t reactionary. We stand stationary on the Rock that is Christ Jesus.
Oh, and the next time someone starts pointing out all the imperfect Christians to excuse their sin; just point them towards Jesus.
“For He hath made Him who knew no sin to be sin for us, that we might be made the righteousness of God in Him (2 Corinthians 5:21).”
I’m a fierce advocate of preachers and preaching. I’ve written in defense of preachers on numerous occasions here, here, and here. That doesn’t mean I view preachers as superhuman or little deities, however, God clearly ordained the foolishness of preaching as the mechanism for reaching the world with the Gospel (1 Corinthians 1:18-21, Acts 17:18, Mark 16:15). Preaching is also Divinely designed to preserve, encourage, strengthen, equip, and correct the Church (1 Corinthians 15:2, 1 Peter 1:25, 1 Timothy 4:13, 2 Timothy 3:16). Bottom line, preaching is really, really, really vital for the overall health of the Church and the advancement of the Gospel. It only makes sense that Satan would set traps for preachers faster than a poacher on a wildlife preservation.
Without descending into a pit of needless negativity, I can safely assume everyone reading this post has witnessed at least one sincere preacher turn, shall we say… less than sincere. With very few exceptions, preachers do not begin ministering with nefarious intentions. For the most part, preachers make tremendous sacrifices to enter the ministry. Preacher problems develop over time as they fall into traps either because of carelessness or unresolved character flaws the enemy cleverly exploits.
My motivation for writing isn’t to berate the fallen, there’s plenty of preacher bashing going on without me jumping unceremoniously into the ring. Instead, I’m writing with the earnest hearted preacher in mind. Additionally, I’m writing for those who may have stepped a toe across a line, yet still have the capacity to feel a surge of conscience. One thing is for certain if you labor in ministry long enough you will be forced to navigate around or fight your way out of a preacher trap. I’ve identified eight common traps in the hopes of building awareness, fortifications, and wisdom.
1. Success & popularity. Most preachers have tons of incredibly humbling moments in their early days of ministry. To this day, my brother has a “blackmail tape” containing one of the first sermons I ever preached. I sounded like a scared parrot that only knew four words. After those four words, everything else was just squawking and weird chirping sounds. It was horrible. God bless that precious congregation and Pastor James Fielder for loving me enough to be encouraging despite that pathetic, although sincere attempt to preach.
Yep. Early days of ministry are filled with epic fails, empty blusters, false starts, zealous stumbles, learning curves, knowledge gaps, unrestrained enthusiasm, and embarrassing awkwardness. Some endure that maturation process longer than others, but over time the resilient step into a season of ministerial success. Now, measuring ministerial success can be tricky because it really has nothing to do with money, fame, large congregations, or popularity. God defines success differently than most people define success, but that’s another post for another day. Regardless, even achieving a godly standard of success can suck the humility right out of a sincere heart. Once that humility is gone, all kinds of nasty things compete to fill the void.
Success is not the problem. Success is a good thing. Responding correctly to success is the key. Most people spend a lot of time figuring out how to deal with failure, but very little time preparing their heart to handle success and popularity.
2. Talent. The moment a preacher realizes he is talented enough to move a crowd without relying on the anointing his foot is poised above a preacher killing landmine. Lawyers, politicians, comedians, actors, false prophets, and motivational speakers move crowds emotionally every single day without the help of the anointing. Having talent is great, terrific even, but it is the anointing that breaks the yoke (Isaiah 10:27).
I firmly believe that preachers should work to develop strong communication skills. I believe preachers have an obligation to work as hard as they can to communicate biblical truths effectively and with as much excellence as possible. This is partially what the Apostle Paul was alluding to when he admonished Timothy, “Study to shew thyself approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth (2 Timothy 2:15).” But all the talent, work, study, and charisma in the world is no substitute for prayer, fasting, and humble reliance upon the Lord.
Every talented preacher should remember the warning of the ever-somber prophet Jeremiah: Cursed is that man who trusts in man and makes flesh his strength (Jeremiah 17:5-9). Learning how to move a crowd emotionally is a cheap substitute for the genuine power and demonstration of the Spirit (1 Corinthians 2:4-5).
3. Loving preaching more than people. This is one of the most common traps to ensnare preachers. It shames me to admit that I’ve had to fight my way out of this trap a time or two. This one takes a lot of self-introspection to detect.
Upon reflection, I’ve pinpointed a few things about my preaching while wriggling out of that devious little trap. One, I preached way longer than needed to communicate what God laid on my heart. Two, I chased a lot of rabbit trails that interested me but were of little help or value to the hearers. Three, I resisted the Spirit when it prompted me to deviate from my prepared notes. Four, I rebuked out of personal anger rather than true righteous indignation. Five, I spent less time weeping over the lost and broken than concocting just the right wording for each sermon point. Six, in the preparation process I resisted the directing of the Spirit opting instead to build my favorite soap box or pursue topics that were intellectually stimulating to me personally. Seven, I was more passionate about winning arguments than winning hearts. Eight, I preached condescendingly, smugly, and arrogantly.
To be clear, preaching cannot and should not be solely directed towards the “felt” needs of a congregation. Neither should preaching be spineless, compromising, or afraid of necessary confrontation. Nothing mentioned here should leave the impression that preachers should be push-overs, milquetoasts, or overly obsessive about offending the hearers. But the fact remains a preacher’s motives matter. Preachers should always stand behind the sacred desk driven by love for God, God’s Word, God’s Church, and lost people.
4. Forgetting the main mission. As I mentioned earlier, preaching has many noble purposes, but none more vital than the propagation of the Gospel (Matthew 28:19-20, 2 Timothy 4:17, 2 Corinthians 10:14, Acts 8:12-17). Preaching can quickly devolve into mere motivational jargon if it isn’t Christocentric. During the endless quest to remain relevant, creative, interesting, inspiring, and fresh some preachers lose sight of the Great Commission and ultimately fail their mission.
5. Valuing crowd size above the spiritual growth of the congregation. I’ve written a good bit on church growth here, here, here, and here. No preacher in their right mind wants seats to be empty while the Word is being preached. Every empty seat represents a soul that needs God. Regardless, God never called preachers to build large congregations. Rather, we are called to plant the seed; God alone gives the Harvest (Matthew 9:38). Every preacher reading this knows that is the case, but it doesn’t stop us from feeling like failures when church attendance dips or doesn’t grow at the pace we had envisioned. All of that is normal and acceptable to a certain degree, yet very dangerous if we begin to value large crowds above the actual spiritual health of the people.
Obviously, just gathering large groups of people together every Sunday isn’t the ultimate spiritual objective. Otherwise, the NFL would be one of the most spiritual organizations in America. When preachers become inordinately focused on crowd size instead of spiritual maturation they will suffer depression, discouragement, insecurity, jealousy, and struggle with the temptation to become people pleasers rather than God pleasers. Which leads nicely to the next trap.
6. Willingness to sacrifice scriptural integrity for any reason at all. There are many reasons a preacher might be tempted to compromise biblical truths. Some compromise due to the illusion of assured numerical growth, desired popularity, personal carnality, outside pressure, peer pressure, spiritual battle fatigue, greed, or any number of other factors. Regardless, failing to preach the whole Truth and nothing but the Truth is a gross betrayal of God’s calling and of the trust placed in us by others.
7. Burnout. Unresolved physical, emotional, and spiritual exhaustion can result in burnout and burnout produces bitterness. For every preacher with a golf course “ministry” reputation, there are ten others burning the candle at both ends. As I’ve written before, ministry is incredibly demanding. Burnout usually manifests itself as depression or anxiety or both. The tragedy of the burnout trap is that it takes advantage of a preacher’s good intentions. We want to be all things, to all people, all the time. It’s just not humanly possible.
8. Ministering to others while neglecting family. I understand that a preacher’s family must be willing to make sacrifices for the sake of ministry. I get that. Been there. Done that. Still doing that. But a preacher’s first ministerial obligation is to his family (Genesis 18:19, 1 Samuel 3:13, 1 Timothy 3:1-12, Titus 1:6). Many dynamic ministries have been rendered powerless because their family fell apart. They were so busy ministering to others they lost sight of their primary responsibility.
Singles seem to fall through the cracks in our churches. That’s an observation, not a criticism. It’s one of those hard to avoid problems that just naturally occurs. If you’re single and reading this you’re shaking your head in agreement right now.
It’s not that churches don’t care about singles – they do – but being single isn’t a characteristic that necessarily unites people into well-structured little groups. For example, you can be 18 or 88 and be single; 18-year-old singles have a completely different set of needs than say… a middle-aged single adult.
All the good and bad excuses aside, churches need to talk more about how Apostolic singles should approach dating and relationships. I see singles struggling to navigate dating and serving God faithfully at the same time from all age groups. With that in mind, these six dating standards are directed towards every age group. Some of these standards are solid biblical truths, while others are personal opinions based on years of counseling and observation.
Let me start with a few statements of fact: Being single does not mean that you are less valuable than married people, and it’s far better to be single than married to the wrong person. Having said that, it’s a natural God-given desire to long for a spouse. You should pursue that desire on God’s terms, which leads me to point number one…
1. Apostolic singles should never consider dating anyone (and I mean anyone) who is not Apostolic. There is nothing more important to any relationship than walking in spiritual unity. How can you have anything truly in common with someone who isn’t in full agreement with the most defining aspect of your life (Amos 3:3, 2 Corinthians 6:14-17, 1 Corinthians 15:33, 2 Timothy 3:5)? Spiritual and doctrinal disagreements impact every aspect of a married life.
Now, I’ve heard all the arguments and excuses for why “this” person is the one good exception to that rule, and the story almost always ends in heartache or backsliding. I’ve observed countless situations where someone pretended to be serious about God just to be in a relationship with an Apostolic guy or girl. In those situations, the entire relationship is built on a lie. Hardly a good start to any long-lasting marriage. Dating someone into the Church is a bad idea – the happily ever after success stories are extremely rare. Beyond that, it’s a question of the heart. Why would you be attracted to someone who isn’t Holy Ghost filled, holy, and zealous about their faith?
2. Mr. Right will attract a Mrs. Right and vice versa. Most singles have a mental (and maybe even an actual) checklist of what they want the “right” one to be like. There’s nothing wrong with that necessarily (depending on what’s on the list). However, you should spend more time making sure you’re everything that you should be. You won’t attract the right kind of person if you aren’t working to be the right kind of person. Singlehood is a tremendous opportunity for self-improvement, preparation, spiritual growth, and maturation.
3. Apostolic singles must trust that God is guiding their footsteps (Romans 8:28, Proverbs 3:5-6, Proverbs 16:9, Psalm 37:23). Fate is not a biblical concept. God orders our every step if we are faithful to Him. That’s something every Apostolic single should believe wholeheartedly. God will guide the right person into your life at just the right time.
You might look around your church on any given Sunday and think, “If these are my only options I’m gonna die alone.” But remember, we walk by faith not sight (2 Corinthians 5:7). If you trust God and guard your integrity, God will orchestrate your future in ways that you can’t possibly plan.
4. Speaking of guarding integrity, Apostolic singles should create and maintain protective boundaries in their relationships. I’m confident the average Apostolic single doesn’t enter a relationship planning to be promiscuous, indecent, or sexually immoral. Nevertheless, if you don’t have defensive boundaries in place lines can be crossed very quickly. Carelessness leads to sinfulness in a hurry.
So, let’s talk dating and relationship boundaries for a minute.
Under no circumstances should a man and woman – unless they are married to one another – be alone together in a house or bedroom. There’s too much opportunity for things to go too far in that setting, and even if nothing happens it looks wildly inappropriate.
It’s important for dating couples to spend time with groups of people. You need to see how that person interacts with others and with the people who are already a part of your life.
Dating couples should always have a plan. Don’t just get together and kill time. Boredom and too much free time is a dangerous combo for two people who are attracted to one another.
Singles of all ages must be open and accountable to spiritual authority. Singles should talk to their pastor, family, and trustworthy spiritual mentors BEFORE becoming too emotionally invested in a relationship. Singles who remove this boundary are dodging godly counsel.
When dating, singles should ask lots and lots of questions. Don’t take it for granted that you know what someone believes just because they warm a church pew. There’s always a Judas hanging around Jesus. Talk. Find out what they really believe deep down. Talk about hopes, dreams, plans, goals, and aspirations. Find out if they are growing spiritually or dying spiritually.
When dating, watch how they respond in church services. If they sit in church like a dead frog you know something is spiritually off balance. If they’re totally uninvolved and out of touch with their local assembly… run.
Stay modest, even when you’re not together. Texting, social media, video chatting, and tons of other forms of technology have changed the modern dating scene. If it would be immodest for you to show it or wear it in person, you shouldn’t be showing it or wearing it digitally either.
5. Don’t date someone who isn’t marriage material. Never date just to date. I’ve received a lot of pushback on this piece of advice over the years. I stand by it anyway, dating isn’t a game or a way to kill time. Dating shouldn’t be a temporary fix for loneliness. Dating is two people evaluating whether they are compatible and capable of truly loving one another for a lifetime. And by the way, spending all your free time with a member of the opposite sex is dating whether you call it that or not. If marriage is out of the question, stop dating that person immediately.
6. Know your worth. You are incredibly valuable. Don’t let anyone or anything convince you otherwise. In a culture of casual sex and careless relationships, Apostolic singles are set apart by God for better things.
Finally, marriage is by far the most life-impacting decision a person will ever make. Be prayerful, be accountable, be faithful, be prepared, and seek wisdom. Know that God cares about your happiness. God is in complete control of your future. Let the Lord lead you.
The tragic story of baby Charlie Gard has garnered international attention and instigated fresh debates over the value of human life. Charlie was born in the U.K. last August with a rare life threatening genetic condition (you can read more about the details here). Long story short, although Charlie’s parents have raised over 1.6 million dollars to send their baby to a facility willing to use potentially lifesaving experimental treatments, a British hospital is refusing their requests. In fact, they are escalating the situation by threatening to remove Charlie from life support against the wishes of his parents (read more on that here).
This entire story is staggering. It spotlights several cultural moral dilemmas that are reaching a boiling point. For example, does all human life have intrinsic value? Should government bureaucracies have the authority to overrule parents in matters of life and death? Would abortion have been the compassionate option had the parents known of his condition in advance? The answers to these questions have far-reaching, and quite literally, life threatening ramifications.
Like Charlie, I too was born with a rare genetic life-threatening condition. I was born “blue” and underwent four open heart surgeries before age six. But the relevant piece of information for this discussion is that prior to 1981 (I was born in 1983) my life (barring a supernatural miracle) would have ended very quickly. In the decades prior, surgery on a “tet” baby was extremely experimental, and it was still experimental even in the 80’s. I am incredibly grateful for the lifesaving work of numerous doctors and nurses on my behalf, and for the many miracles that God supplied when the medical community came up short. On a personal level, Charlie’s case strikes a chord with me. But beyond that, my Christian faith shapes my opinions regarding life as well.
In all our theological pontifications, there are few things more foundational to a biblical worldview than the sacred value of a human life. At the creation of the world, God breathed the breath of life into mankind and man became a living soul (Genesis 2:7). The Christian understanding of life is predicated upon the reality that every life is a gift from God. Since life is given by God and sustained by God; it belongs to God and we do not have absolute autonomy over human life. We are simply stewards of our own lives and the lives of others. Therefore, all human life must be cherished and guarded. Furthermore, the protection of human life should absolutely be extended to unborn children too (Psalm 139:13, Psalm 51:5, Exodus 23:7, Proverbs 6:16-17).
Oddly enough, I find Christians to be shockingly quiet on issues of abortion, euthanasia, and the intrinsic value of human life. I’ve written in the past (you can read about it here) on the secularistic tendency to value animal life as equal to, and sometimes more valuable, than human life. This trend has gone largely unnoticed within the Christian bubble. Honestly, I’m not sure why my fellow Christians are unwilling to confront these dangerous ideologies head on. But this I know, if I were to post an article entitled How to Get Your Blessing Right Now it would get only slightly less attention than a YouTube video full of puppies. But if I post an article about the genocide of nearly 70 million unborn babies? Crickets. This ought not to be so.
Back to little Charlie, Europe is at the tail end of an existential crisis. Secularism, humanism, rationalism, atheism, and several other “isms” are reaching a shrill crescendo. America isn’t too far behind them either. Chillingly, when you read statements given by the faceless authorities who hold Charlie’s life in the balance, they use words like “dignity” and “compassion”. These are the same buzzwords Hitler used in the years leading up to the mass sterilization of the “unwanted”. The disabled and retarded were euthanized under the guise of “mercy”.
The “live and let live” crowd of the 60’s has morphed into the mindset of Job’s wife. Remember, while Job was physically and emotionally broken his wife said, “Just curse God and die (Job 2:9).” In a world, fraught with relativism, the “curse God and die” mantra is the natural evolution of poisonous philosophies.
Devoted Christians have long noticed the intolerant tolerance of societies at large. Behind the “just love everybody and adopt a puppy” platitudes there is a reckless disregard for everything sacred. We know this because we’ve been victimized and demonized by the “can’t we all just get along and hug a tree” crowd for decades. For example, secularism saves whales with religious zeal but demonizes Christians who desperately want to save the lives of unborn babies. In Charlie’s case, European secularism pats itself on the back for universal healthcare while planning to pull the plug on a helpless child against the wishes of his loving parents.
That’s the irony of relativistic morality; it calls murder compassionate, or merciful, or a woman’s choice, or whatever it wants because there is no authority beyond whoever wields the most power. Once you remove God from the equation anything is possible and the person with the most power gets to call evil good or good evil. History teaches us that godless relativism favors the wealthy, the attractive, the healthy, the like-minded, and the strong. However, it always poses a great danger to the weak, the religious, the poor, the sick, and the noncompliant.
I’m praying for Charlie tonight, and all the other Charlie’s out there who we’ve never heard about. My heart breaks for his parents. Whatever happens, their journey is just beginning. I pray they will have the strength to endure the road ahead. I’m praying that Christians everywhere would find the courage of their convictions. And I’m praying for a misguided world that desperately needs God.
In the last 25 years, the church growth movement has transformed how America has church. It has also changed how younger people view church.
Many churches are now driven by business and marketing philosophies, moving away from a focus on discipleship and relationship with God.
The pastor has changed roles from shepherd to salesman. A distorted view of grace is his wares.
Evangelism is nonexistent. Apostles are no longer understood. Prophets are rejected. Teaching revolves around life skills. Prayer is redefined as positive thoughts, and the Spirit has no place in the business plan.
People now go to church to be courted and entertained, rather than to worship God.
Choosing churches is now the equivalent of deciding between buying jeans at the GAP or Old Navy. The product is pretty much the same. So who has better customer service? Or you can always stay home and do your shopping every Sunday morning online with a beer in your hand.
The result of this church culture is that younger people now view most churches like the last old department store in town, barely hanging on from the last century.
And they are simply shopping elsewhere.
Attempts to become mega church businesses have equated churches in the minds of millennials with the Sears downtown.
There is a “Going out of business” sign on the windows and everything is for sale, including the fixtures, the building, and even management.
The only way the Church will ever out-market, out-perform, or out-sell the world is through prayer, the preached Word, and the power of the Holy Ghost.
This world doesn’t need the Church to be Sears, a megachurch, their coffee shop, or a theater where they can view a well designed theological-themed production.
The world needs the Church to be Apostolic, Spirit-led, and Gospel preaching.
The world needs the Church to be full of conviction and separated unto God.
They need the God-designed Church that began in the Book of Acts, has thrived in every century, and still preaches the Truth that has the power to change even this generation.
Rev. Jonathan Sanders is a dynamic evangelist, preacher, teacher, and coffee connoisseur. This article originally appeared on Jonathan’s Facebook page. His posts and daily thoughts are always inspirational, articulate, interesting, relevant, and thought provoking. You can follow him on Facebook or Twitterhere and here. As I read his original post, I couldn’t help but think of David refusing King Saul’s armor before fighting Goliath. David understood that he needed to use the tools that God had equipped him with rather than conventional weapons of war. The modern Church desperatelly needs to reject marketing methods and embrace spiritual, God-ordained weaponry.
I’m a statistics kinda guy, but I know from the glazed looks people give me when I bring them up that most people aren’t like me. So, rather than bore you with the minutia of details, let’s just say folks are battling depression on an epic scale.
Certainly, temptation, in general, is an ever-present problem, and even Christians seem to be struggling with feelings of despair. Not to mention other emotional issues like fear, anger, bitterness, unforgiveness, lust (including pornography), greed, envy, jealousy, and the list goes on. And those are just the natural issues that human beings face; demonic attacks are prevalent as well. Sadly, many people don’t even realize they’re entangled in a spiritual battle.
These problems begin in the mind. Every sin starts with a thought, and if that thought is not dealt with properly it will produce a sinful action or reaction. The battle for peace is fought in the mind. The battle for joy is fought in the mind. The battle for purity is fought in the mind. Satan engages your mind first because what you think about the most is what you will eventually act upon. If you engage your mind with darkness you will be drawn towards darkness. If you engage your mind with righteousness you will be drawn towards righteousness (Philippians 4:8).
That’s what Paul meant when he said, “And be not conformed to this world: but be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind… (Romans 12:2)”. Again, in Ephesians 4:22-24 Paul refers to the battle of the mind in relation to holiness and overcoming the old “sinful” way of life. The old mind produces the old sins, but a renewed mind produces holiness. In verse 25, Paul illustrates the first fruit of that new mind is truthfulness with our neighbors. The state of our mind informs the status of our actions. In other words, garbage in garbage out and vice versa.
My personality is very susceptible to depression. That’s not easy to say because many Christians are so used to emotionally faking it that they think they’re making it. They’re kicking the emotional can down the road until the inevitable day of reckoning.
Hands down, the number one question posed to me when counseling: How can I win the battle that’s raging in my mind (or some variation of that)? The answer is not a simple one. Most people want a silver bullet that makes all the struggles go away immediately. To be sure, there are powerful offensive weapons, but none of them are lasting without a strong defensive shield. You can rebuke the Devil, but he’ll just come back around if you leave your defenses vulnerable.
Below is a list of fifteen things that will truly guard our minds. Fifteen powerful defensive shields. If you’re looking for a shorter Twitter-friendly list just know, there are no shortcuts to safety.
1. Get some rest (Psalm 4:8). Have you ever been so tired you just didn’t care about anything anymore? Exhaustion has a way of draining us physically and emotionally. There are times it simply can’t be avoided, but there are also times where we simply haven’t made rest a priority.
2. Help somebody (Hebrews 13:16). We should help others because it’s the right thing to do. But there are benefits attached to helping others. It takes our minds off us and our problems. Helping others forces us out of selfish habits and self-destructive thoughts. It’s amazing how quickly our attitude can change when we empty ourselves out in the service of others.
3. Only listen to Christian music. Fill your mind with godly music that is uplifting. Yep, and the more it talks about Jesus the better. Listen to it a lot.
There’s literally nothing that has more ability to impact your mind and mood than music. Everything about music is designed to lower your guard and capture your attention. When you fill your mind with sinful lyrics you’ve opened yourself up to spiritual attack. You’d be hard-pressed to find a popular secular song that doesn’t glorify either casual sex, cursing, violence, drinking, drugs, cheating, lying, greed, lust, godlessness, hopelessness, despair, or divorce. That list could be a lot longer, but you get the idea.
By listening to that kind of music you are literally handing your mind over to the enemy. If it walks like the world and talks like the world it probably is the world. Oh, and if you’re in the world your prayers lose their power: The prayers of a righteous man avail much (James 5:16).
By the way, everything listed above applies to all your entertainment choices. Everything from books, magazines, movies, television, internet, games, and more. Surely, you can’t be entertained by filth and wonder why you long for filth. Surely, you can’t watch horror and wonder why you battle anxiety. Surely, you can’t watch (and laugh at) immorality and wonder why you’re full of lust. Clean it up, throw stuff out, make a covenant with your eyes and ears. Take Philippians 4:8 seriously and you’ll be surprised how quickly your mind will be renewed.
Everything else on this list of defenses will be weakened if you constantly subject your eyes and ears to worldly entertainment.
4. Spend time daily reading the Bible. If you need direction, search the Scriptures. If you need encouragement, search the Scriptures. You need the Word daily. Why would you leave your greatest resource untouched?
The word is a lamp unto our feet (Psalm 119:105), which means it protects us from painfully stumbling and falling. But it’s also a sword (Ephesians 6:17), meaning it is our greatest offensive weapon against the enemy. When Satan tempted Jesus in the wilderness his strongest offense and defense was the Word (Luke 4:1-13). If you know what is written you will know how to confidentially respond to temptation.
5. Pray, really pray (1 Thessalonians 5:17). Sincerely, pray and ask God for strength. Pray until the Holy Ghost falls. Pray when you don’t feel like praying. That’s usually when you need to pray the most. Pray for the Lord’s will (Luke 22:42, Matthew 6:9-13). Pray your way through the Psalms.
It’s good to get alone with God in a private place, but some of my best prayer meetings happened in my car driving down the road. That’s what it means to pray without ceasing, being ready to pray at a moment’s notice.
Don’t just pray when you need something, pray because you want to be close to God. Put some praise in your prayers. Talk to God about your hopes and dreams, doubts and fears, pains and triumphs, and all the in between stuff too. We’ve all known people who only called when they needed something. Don’t be that way with God. Be that person who maintains the relationship in the good times and the bad.
6. Make sure you’re being obedient to the Bible in your personal life (even when no one is looking). Disobedience invites the demonic (1 Samuel 13:14). Even worse, disobedience stirs God’s wrath (Ephesians 5:6). Disobedient Christians are miserable because they are fighting the demonic and suffering the Lord’s wrath at the same time.
7. Spend time talking with godly, Holy Ghost filled people who will encourage you not discourage you (Proverbs 13:20-25). Choose your inner circle wisely. Those closest to you will impact your attitude and your mind the most. Your closest friendships should not be with unwise or ungodly people. Be kind to everyone, but your deep friendships should be with Holy Ghost filled encouragers who aren’t afraid to tell you the truth even when it hurts.
8. Avoid people, places, and things that will trigger a spiritual attack, temptation, or depression (when possible). Eve would have been far less likely to eat the fruit if she hadn’t been near the fruit. The serpent didn’t show up until she showed up where she shouldn’t have been. Don’t set yourself up for failure by hanging around people and places that pull your mind in dangerous directions.
There are some things that aren’t sinful by themselves but they have emotional connections in your mind that trigger unhealthy thoughts. Avoid those things. For example, I have a friend who was addicted to heroin before he received the Holy Ghost. Every time he shot up he would listen to instrumental jazz music and wait for the drugs to take over. Whenever he hears jazz music all kinds of negative emotions come crashing down on him. Obviously, if possible, he avoids jazz. That’s called wisdom.
9. Get to church as soon as possible and grab the altar until God touches you (Psalm 84:3, Psalm 92:13). There’s a reason that we are instructed not to forsake the gathering together of godly people (Hebrews 10:25). It’s a blessing for our own benefit (Mark 2:27).
Even the Lord’s Prayer (Matthew 6:9-13) is written in the plural, not the singular: Give us this day our daily bread. We thrive as a community of believers. We were not made to walk alone. Faith feeds faith. Worship breeds worship. Joy is contagious. When we are weak we need the strength of fellow believers, and when we are strong weak believers need our encouragement.
There is safety in numbers. The Bible refers to Satan as a lion looking for a person to devour (1 Peter 5:8). Lions are known for stalking very large prey. They follow a herd and wait for one member of the herd to lag behind or become separated from the others. That’s when the lion pounces. A herd can defend itself from the lion’s attack, but a single animal becomes an easy victim.
Years of ministry has taught me that many people avoid church when they are struggling to win the battle for their mind. That’s literally the worst thing a person can do in that situation. If you have to take a boat, train, plane, or walk in the rain: do what you have to do to get to church.
10. Worship the Lord all the time even when you’re alone (Psalm 34:1). This one might sound silly at first, but you should spontaneously worship the Lord throughout your day. If you love and appreciate the Lord, you won’t wait until Sunday to tell him.
11. Add fasting to your prayers. In Matthew 17:14-21 a father brought his demon-possessed son to Jesus for deliverance. The King James Version refers to the son as a “lunatic” inferring that the possession and oppression were so strong it had literally destroyed the boy’s mind. The father had already taken his son to the disciples but they had been unable to cast the demon out of him. Of course, Jesus cast the devil out immediately leaving the disciples wondering why they had been powerless. In verse 19 Jesus rebukes them for their unbelief (lack of faith), and in verse 21 he reveals the reason for their unbelief; lack of prayer combined with fasting. This demon was so strong that it required prayer and fasting to overpower it.
There are situations, attacks, oppressions, and spirits that require prayer and fasting to overcome. Fasting brings our mind and body into subjection. It cultivates spiritual awareness and sensitivity. Our mind is sharpened and our spirit is quickened when fasting. And yet, this is the most underutilized tool in most people’s spiritual belt.
12. Keep a prayer journal. For me personally, this has been one of the most helpful things I have ever done. I write thoughts, prayer requests, questions, goals, hopes, dreams, study findings, and testimonies. The Bible speaks of overcoming by the word of testimony (Revelation 12:11). We humans have a bad habit of fixating on what we need God to do and forgetting what he has already done. This forgetfulness leads to anxiety. Remembering what God has done builds faith.
13. Study a specific subject in the Bible. This is different than just daily Bible reading. Find a subject that you don’t fully understand dig deeply until you understand it inside and out. Knowledge is power in the Spirit (Proverbs 24:5). Satan operates best in confusion.
FINAL THOUGHT: The Devil attacks people’s minds immediately after powerful spiritual events. It was right after Jesus’ baptism that he was carried into the wilderness and tempted by the Devil (Matthew 4:1-11). There are countless other biblical examples, but if you know this to be the case you can be prepared and respond appropriately.
Most people don’t intentionally try to hurt their pastor. Of course, there are exceptions to that rule. However, there are subtle ways that people carelessly or inadvertently bruise their pastor. If you love your pastor and want to create a climate of revival and respect you will do your best to avoid the items listed below. Let’s dive in.
Tell him he only works on Sundays (or something to that effect). Most people say this jokingly not realizing how terribly insulting they’re being. The typical pastor is massively overworked and understaffed. Studies show that huge numbers of pastors leave the ministry because of burnout and exhaustion. Pastors often work seven days a week and have very little “off the grid” time. There’s no such thing as a definite “day off” in ministry.
Insinuate he makes too much money. First, you should want your pastor to be financially blessed (1 Timothy 5:17-18, 1 Corinthians 9:9-14, Romans 4:4, Acts 6:2). If you don’t, there’s a deeper issue at play. I realize that shyster preachers and TV charlatans have tainted the waters and made people wary, but a godly pastor deserves to be compensated reasonably well.
The average pastor struggles financially. The percentage of wealthy pastors is almost microscopic. Most pastors could make a far better living in the secular workplace. When a person insinuates their pastor is overpaid they are being hurtful in three major ways. One, if their pastor is struggling financially it tells him he will always be struggling financially if this saint has anything to say about it. Two, it demonstrates a lack of respect and appreciation for the work of the ministry. Three, it exposes a mindset that is undervaluing the worth of pastoral ministry.
Refuse to tithe. There is a curious trend that most pastors notice but rarely mention out loud; people who fail to tithe are often the most demanding people in the church. They want more programs, more individual attention, and more costly improvements than the average member. Now, good pastors aren’t in ministry for the money, but being in the ministry doesn’t mean you suddenly don’t need to make a living. Refusing to tithe doesn’t just harm the church it harms the pastor’s ability to provide for his family.
Disregard, disrespect, or mistreat the pastor’s family. Some people will do things to the family that they would never do directly to the pastor. Staggering inconsiderateness or blatant confrontational unkind behavior, when directed towards the family, ultimately harms the pastor. And it’s just plain wrong.
Compare him to other preachers. Constantly comparing your pastor to another pastor or a celebrity preacher who probably doesn’t even know who you are is soul crushing to him. Your pastor is not just a preacher he is your under-shepherd. Meaning, he has prayed for you, entreated God on your behalf, and bears a customized burden for your spiritual well-being. There might be other preachers who have more oratorical skill than your pastor, but your pastor doesn’t need to feel the pressure of comparison.
Disparage new ideas. Every pastor will have a new idea from time to time. Sometimes they work out as planned and sometimes they don’t. Don’t be the person who can always be counted on for the dreaded “I told you so” when a new idea falls flat. Every leader needs the leeway to try new things and adjust accordingly. Be as supportive of new things as possible.
Minimize successes. There are few things more discouraging to a pastor than people who refuse to celebrate successes. Some folks bring a wet blanket to every celebration by pointing out all the things that are still imperfect. No matter the strength of any given church, there will always be plenty of room for improvement, but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t rejoice when progress is made.
Pretend you want advice when you really want validation. Ah. This is a big one. Don’t ask for counseling when you’ve already decided what you’re going to do. If you’ve already made up your mind just admit you don’t want spiritual guidance or genuine input from your pastor. Pretending you do when you don’t is disingenuous.
Talk behind his back. It might’ve just been a moment of frustration and you didn’t even really mean what you said, but when it gets back to your pastor (and it will) it will weigh on him heavily. He’ll love you regardless but your trustworthiness will be compromised.
Withhold honor. Some saints withhold honor because they don’t want their pastor to get a “big” head. Trust me. There are more than enough “balloon poppers” out there to keep him humble. Just give honor when and where honor is due.
View him suspiciously without a valid reason. We’ve all seen pastors fall from grace whether up close or from afar. We’ve all heard or maybe even seen the horror stories of preachers gone bad. Satan uses those sad stories to plant seeds of distrust and disunity within the hearts of good people. You wouldn’t teach your kids to distrust all police officers because of a few dirty cops, likewise, extend the same benefit of the doubt to godly ministry.
Fight with other saints. Probably nothing else causes more grief to a pastor than trouble among the saints.
Complain about irrelevant things. There are legitimate complaints that are worthy of mentioning to your pastor. However, airing out every personal preference and petty dislike becomes hurtful in a hurry.
In conclusion: everyone (including myself) has done at least one of the things mentioned in this article. Your pastor loves you anyway and that’s not going to change. We’re human, and that means we accidentally hurt one another occasionally. The key is to do our best to adjust when we realize that we’re causing someone pain.
The Walking Dead is far from the only provocative show out there, but with so many Christians talking about it, I feel a responsibility to address it. The Walking Dead symbolizes entertainment today. Am I the only one who has noticed all the MA (Mature ratings) on everything? The sad truth is, the “MATURE” rating sells in our culture, and that’s why we see so much of it now.
Congratulations! If you’re alive, you’re a part of the Zombie Culture. Ironic, isn’t it? Full disclosure, I’ve never seen the show. I made a personal decision not to watch it. Even so, it’s impossible to escape the impact it makes all around us. This article is intended to point out the desensitization of what our culture deems “acceptable” for viewing in their home.
Here are three sad reasons why The Walking Dead is so popular today.
PEOPLE LONG TO KNOW MORE ABOUT THE AFTERLIFE
Eternity is a scary thing. The Word of God addresses eternity over and over again. We have the answer! You must be “Born Again” to enter into the Kingdom of God (John 3:3). Satan loves the Zombie Culture because it takes eternity out of the picture, and gives the subtle impression that we STAY here after we die. The Zombie culture takes the reality of Heaven and Hell out of the picture entirely. The truth about death is found in the Word of God.
You don’t have to watch The Walking Dead to know it’s VIOLENT. Extremely violent entertainment used to be considered a “cult following”. Not anymore, my friends. The Walking Dead has over 20 Million devout followers. We live in a crazy world filled with mass shootings, terrorism, and bomb threats every other week. Violent TV contributes greatly to this. Studies and criminal testimonies show that the culprits usually have one thing in common, they got involved in pornographic and violent entertainment.
What you watch affects you! Period. You can kick and scream and say it isn’t so but it doesn’t change reality. It is impossible scientifically for your brain to shut out what you put in front of your eyes. Yet, our culture is drawn to violence for entertainment purposes. This is also why you will notice the MARVEL franchise starting to make R-rated movies. The “R” rating used to hurt revenue, now they are the “number 1” selling movies in the franchise. Violence sells.
Hollywood is smart. They know how to maneuver around the human conscience. People say, “Season 7 was too much for me, but I’m 6 seasons in. I can’t stop now or I’ve wasted my time! I’ll never know what happened if I stop watching!”
Entertainment is addicting, and it’s hard to stop once you’ve invested your time into it. Usually, the first season of a show will stay tame enough to keep its audience. It’s not until later seasons that writers and director get brave. You control what you watch, not anyone else. If what you’re watching is not pleasing to God, only you have the power to stop it.
So, I leave you with this thought. The CULTURE shouldn’t influence the CHURCH, the CHURCH should influence the culture. Just because culture deems certain entertainment acceptable, doesn’t mean the Church should start digesting it. If your phone was mirrored to the world, would you be ashamed by your entertainment choices? Only you can decide what you allow into your home. Our churches will begin looking like “The Walking Dead” if we don’t clean up our entertainment choices.
If this article stepped on your toes, look down and make sure your feet are planted in the right place. Better yet, move your feet and walk away from The Walking Dead.
A day or so before Nathan approached me with the concept of writing about The Walking Dead, my 7-year-old son asked me if dead people could really eat living people alive. After much questioning, I found out that several of his classmates watch The Walking Dead with their parents, and talk about it at school. These are 7-YEAR-OLD KIDS! You also need to understand, I spend a small fortune to send my kids to an extremely conservative Christian school. And yet, the pervasiveness of a gruesome horror show still permeates the environment despite concerned teachers. Obviously, Christian parents are not only ingesting gratuitous violence themselves (not to mention nudity, sex, and cursing), but they are callously exposing their small children as well. There is simply no redeeming quality in this kind of behavior.
Nathan and I have already braced ourselves for the inevitable pushback from the desensitized Christian zombified masses who will find this whole discussion offensive and out-of-bounds. I look forward to reading their indefensible defenses, their unjustifiable justifications, and their objectionable objections. Just to make sure no one can accuse me of obfuscation; you should absolutely run away from The Walking Dead.
This is essentially part two of my conversation with my brother Nathan on the subject of worship. I really appreciate Nathan taking the time to talk. We both lead incredibly hectic lives and finding time to do anything is extremely difficult. But we both care deeply about the importance of worship and leading worship. In […]
Everyone seems to be consumed with the question of why Millennials are leaving churches. Just google “why are millennials leaving the church” and you’ll have a month’s worth of reading material. Millennials are writing “open letters” to the Church like doctors write prescriptions. America has shifted its focus from the Baby Boomer generation to the Millennial generation. The reasons are many, Millennials by most estimations have surpassed the Baby Boomers in number, they are taking over the workforce, and shaping culture in countless ways both good and bad.
Full disclosure, at 33 I am technically a millennial. For those who have remained blissfully unaware, the consensus seems to be that Millennials are comprised of those born from 1982 – 2012 (although there is some debate). So, I squeaked into what is often called “the worst generation”. Good for me!
Having said that, it should be noted that Millennials are not monolithic. We simply cannot be lumped into one big pile. I think that’s one of the most interesting and underreported aspects of my generation. We are radically different from person to person. This can be attributed to the massive amounts of data and information that have become accessible to us from our youth via the rise of the internet, social media, education, and other media sources. In fact, we have so much data we’re literally drowning in it.
Regarding the hysteria surrounding the so-called mass exodus of Millennials from churches, this is not a new issue. Every generation has had a falling away (check out this article written in 1993 regarding the Baby Boomer generation). I’m a fifth-generation Oneness Pentecostal Christian, and every generation in my family has bemoaned the departure of large portions of their generation from the Church.
So why all the frenzy? One, there are more people polling, studying, analyzing and collecting data about Christianity than in days gone by. Second, the rise of blogs (like this one), social media, and the internet in general spreads the word beyond the stuffy conversations of church board meetings. Third, my generation doesn’t leave quietly. We make a big deal over it. We whine and write and vlog and yada-yada-yada about it. The result is that this feels like a brand-new problem when it’s really just an old problem with a new label.
As this study points out, young adults commonly leave churches for a season only to return later in life. Jesus parabolically described this very thing in the story of the Prodigal Son. Marriage, the birth of a child, a life crisis, or the realization that secularism is full of emptiness often draws people back to their childhood faith. My grandparents used to call this phenomenon “sowing wild oats”. I still have no idea what that means.
Please don’t misunderstand, I’m not saying this isn’t a problem, it is. It’s just not a new problem. Beyond that, I think overreactions and knee-jerk responses to the perceived death of Christianity are ridiculous, unnecessary, and unhelpful. I would even argue that the overreacting has contributed to the problem.
Recently, an article caught my attention on Facebook called 12 Reasons Millennials Are Over Church. I’ve read countless articles like it but this one gives a clear window into the heart of the issue. I’d like to address several things the author mentions head on (from one millennial to another so to speak).
It’s probably the narcissistic millennial part of me, but I think being at the upper end of the age spectrum gives me a unique insight into the issue at hand. In other words, I see both sides of the coin; sometimes I think like a typical millennial and other times millennial thinking makes me want to hang my head in shame. Regardless, bridges must be built between the generations, but they must be properly built on foundations of truth and honesty; not hypocrisy and cheap compromise.
Back to the 12 Reasons Millennials Are Over Church, the first complaint on the list is Nobody’s Listening to Us (don’t worry I won’t take the time to address all 12). At the risk of sounding like a broken record, this also is not a new problem. Every generation has felt undervalued, unappreciated, and unheard. We are in the throes of a generational clash. Every younger generation has felt they could do it better, run it better, make it better, etc. Sometimes they’re right and sometimes they’re wrong.
Growing pains are tough and feeling marginalized is tougher. Generational clashes are as old as time, we’ve all heard the platitudes about kids who thought dad didn’t know anything about anything until they had kids of their own. This is the natural order of life, but it must be addressed and discussed.
While it is true that Millennials don’t know everything many of us are sincere (although we are often sincerely wrong). Approaching sincere Millennials with bad assumptions about our character and name calling will alienate us further. Opening channels of communication is imperative if you want us to feel connected to the future and health of the Church. On the flip side, we Millennials must learn that listening is just as important as being heard. The generations ahead of us endured tons of obstacles to get where they are and when we insult their dignity they automatically (and understandably) question our motives.
This brings me to my biggest problem with my generation. Lack of respect. I know, I know. Respect must be earned, but a vast majority of Millennials struggle to respect any traditional authority structures. Mountains of research have been compiled on this very subject. Like most Millennials, I’ve seen many “heroes” fall both secular and religious. This has produced a general mistrust towards leaders of all kinds, which is reason number 7 (Distrust & Misallocation of Resources) in the article we’re discussing.
Since we Millennials love to point out hypocrisy, I’ll shine a little light on one of my generations hypocritical conundrums. Many of my peers may be shedding the “chains” of Christianity and parental dominance, but they are trading them for a secular dogma that they pursue with religious fervor. Their preachers call themselves professors, their bishops are politicians, and science is their Bible. They even have an apocalyptic End Times theology called global warming. Taxes are nothing more than tithes in the mega church of government, and morality is not sexual but it is social. Here’s the problem, politics and science and social justice warriors have far more scandals, greed, misappropriation of funds, antipathy, complacency, inconsistencies, and general fraud than all the churches in all the world could ever dream of having. For example, here’s a list of solutions that the author has given to help churches overcome the distrust Millennials have towards financial stewardship within churches:
Actually, I think all those things are great ideas, and many churches do that stuff and much more. But as Millennials become increasingly politically active why are we not voicing the same concerns towards the almighty federal government? Where is the outrage over the waste and fraud within beloved government social programs? Millennials supposedly value consistency above all and when the Church fails the test we’re out, right? Why then aren’t we imposing these same concerns in the realm of politics?
Moving on, reason number 3 on the list of why Millennials are over church:Helping the Poor Isn’t a Priority. This one always irks me a little bit even though I think I know where he’s coming from. Honestly, it seems like every mega church in America is more concerned with sending water to Africa than actually preaching the Gospel (no need for hate mail, I’m all for sending water to Africa). The social gospel movement dominates western Christianity. Helping the poor is important, vital, necessary, and Christ-like. But nothing could be more compassionate, life-changing, and elevating than the Gospel. That’s why the Great Commission is Gospel-centric not welfare oriented.
But therein lies the true problem my fellow millennial is addressing. To some degree, I’m jumping to conclusions here, but it’s fairly safe to assume based on his description that the author attends a typical semi-mega church. Meaning that the Gospel is so watered down and shallow it’s just a shell of the authentic truth of the Bible. Performance has replaced praise and relevance has replaced righteousness. And these are the kinds of churches that Millennials are fleeing like a religious Titanic.
Churches like this rail against the culture (see point 4) but they are saturated with the culture. They preach sermons based off movies and incorporate secular music into their services. Millennials spot the hypocrisy a mile away. They see churches filled with a form of godliness yet denying the power of it (2 Timothy 3:5). It’s a point I’ve previously made here, many heterosexual Millennials supported gay marriage because they watched churches wink at adultery, divorce, and various other sexual sins while bellowing against the gay lifestyle. Let me be clear, all those things are biblically unacceptable, but many American churches lost the moral high ground a long time ago in the name of relevance. These churches thought they were making the Gospel more palatable, but they really just perverted it.
So, churches that are like the culture have no room to rail against the culture. It’s like the proverbial pot calling the kettle black, or to use one of Jesus’ analogies; it’s like the guy with a beam in his eye pointing out a speck in the other guy’s eye (Matthew 7:3-5). And we’ve circled right back around to hypocrisy; we millennials hate hypocrisy even if we don’t always recognize it in ourselves.
Reason number 7 (We Want to Be Mentored, Not Preached At) is probably the best example of how I see both sides of the coin. On the surface, I agree with the statement but once he starts elaborating he loses me. I do see a dearth of one on one mentorship in the average church. Jesus said to go and make disciples (Matthew 28:19). His whole ministry was a combination of public preaching and private teaching. Millennials are desperate for godly mentors, especially with the overwhelming absence of mothers and fathers due to divorce, careers, and addiction.
But I fear that the minimization of preaching and the weird comfort level that Millennials have with virtual pastors is a product of weak pulpits. Meaning, the average commercially relevant Christian church is preaching watered down sermons thinking that’s what it takes to connect. When in reality they are disconnected from the anointing and the biblical authority they desperately need.
Here’s a point to ponder for holiness pastors such as myself; Millennials are not afraid of biblical righteousness if it is correct, sincere, consistent, and kind. That may rock your boat a little but it’s true. Millennials are not afraid to be counter-cultural if it is presented to them truthfully, sincerely, convincingly, and directly.
Which leads me to reason number 9 on the list of why Millennials are over church; We Want You to Talk to Us About Controversial Issues (Because No One Is). This is the most important point in the entire article, and it is 100% accurate. For too long now churches have remained alarmingly silent on the big issues. Hollywood, social engineers, politicians, and liberal professors don’t have any qualms about facing the big controversial issues head on. So why should the Church? Churches need to talk about jobs, money, careers, sex, marriage, dating, addiction, social issues, and more. As he said, I understand all these topics can’t and shouldn’t be discussed in the main sanctuary. However, opportunities need to be provided to face the controversial issues head on.
For my fellow Pentecostals, there is some good news regarding the scary millennial statistics and the general decline of American Christianity. While mainline, denominational churches are dying Pentecostals are experiencing growth (check out this fascinating article Why Do These Pentecostals Keep Growing? by Ed Stetzer).
While Pentecostals may have declining ranks of Millennials, statistics strongly indicate that we have much better retention than mainline denominational churches. Why? Because we have what the apostles had, the power of the Holy Spirit. We have not allowed liberal theologians to create contempt and mistrust for the Bible. While imperfect, we are distinct and separated from the world. Is carnality creeping into many of our churches? Yes! And that will be the death of those churches. Because Millennials hate hypocrisy. So, if you want to impress Millennials, “…be ye steadfast, unmovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, forasmuch as ye know that your labor is not in vain in the Lord (1 Corinthians 15:58)”.
Finally, Millennials are ultra-social conscious. We want to see poverty, disease, and anguish eradicated. We may be more sensitive than our predecessors in petulant ways, but that doesn’t mean we aren’t earnest. That’s great news for true Bible believing Apostolics because we know that the Gospel can genuinely change lives. The Holy Ghost can lift a drug addict out of crippling addiction, restore marriages, heal sickness, and turn a liar honest. What could be better for broken communities than hundreds of thousands of Spirit transformed people? Apostolic revival is the greatest social program of all time. The Acts 2:38 message can still turn the world upside down (Acts 17:6).
In dealing with and hoping to advise our fellow millennial citizens who range from eighteen to thirty-four years old there are some questions in my mind. Who would you listen to if advice were given? I can answer the question in part, you would probably not listen to your parents, nor would you listen to any older person and very possibly you would not listen to a minister. So, the question is, who could arrest your attention for possible enlightenment? Your peers would probably agree with all that you are now thinking. That is the option you would give your professor, the chance to open your thinking. But he or she would only reiterate what you have already been taught. Or maybe you would thumb through the latest list of movies on the subject in question. I hope you don’t mind my pointing out the fictional aspect of that option.
Well, it’s all complicated but you have more responsibility than you might think. So, I ask you to shake your head and think out of the millennial box. I am not suggesting or asking that you must dress differently or change your hair style. I am only asking that you stretch your mind. Let me say, that by you doing this it will not help me at all, but there is a chance it might benefit you. If you would like to be different than your generation, try this ever so often. Stretching your mind will be a sure way of finding uniqueness since probably not many around you will be so daring. Don’t worry, you could not be an older person if you tried, nor will you ever be thirteen again. So, you must be yourself not a cookie cutter version of all around you. When you think out of the box, you realize no one could push God on you that is impossible. When you understand this, you will be thinking beyond the crowd. It is not possible for preachers to force this upon you. Reading the Bible cannot be forced upon you. Church attendance cannot be forced upon you.
Let me share a secret with you – your children will think you are nuts because what you think about life will be antiquated in 25 years, just like the car you now drive. Your thinking is headed for moth balls. It is on its’ way to becoming obsolete. As a millennial, you might have put God and the church aside which is your prerogative. But please allow me to say before you pull your thinking back into a narrow box, you are taking a lot on yourself. You can’t hug yourself to your own heart. You will find that you alone are just not enough. So, you can’t take anyone else’s idea about a lot of things including God because that is not something others can (or should be allowed to) decide for you. When you fight for your rights remember that others also have theirs. I am not stupid enough to think I can unmillennialize you but we all should realize that we need thinking that will last a lifetime.
Rev. O.C. Marler wears more hats than I can list in this one little bio spot. He is a highly sought after speaker, preacher, and teacher who is known for his powerfully engaging communication style (you can listen here). He currently travels the country preaching with his beloved wife Joan. They are both prolific writers of western and mystery genra fiction. Everyone should own a copy of O.C. Marler’s best selling book Doctrine Does Matter, which is a wonderfully readable explanation of how to be saved. On a personal note, Rev. Marler is a lifelong friend and mentor to me. During my Indiana Bible College years his classes left a lasting impact on my life. His advice, wise counsel, and example are invaluable to me. His ministry has shaped and influenced thousands of millennials throughout the United States.
On a personal note, Ellis cites my father’s tremendous book at about the halfway point of the article. As many of you know, my father, Dr. Talmadge L. French is one of the premier scholars and historians within the Oneness Pentecostal movement. Here’s the quote:
“…the Oneness Pentecostal movement centered on a charismatic Leader, Garfield Thomas Haywood. According to Talmadge L. French in his book, “Early Interracial Oneness Pentecostalism” (2014), the African American Leader, Garfield T. Haywood was its primary architect and figures most prominently into the movements history, not only as one of its leading proponents, but as its central interracial voice, as well as its most renowned leader.”
If you are a pastor wanting to be more self-aware, a saint hoping to better understand your shepherd or a pastor who wants to better understand other pastors, this article is for you.
Pastors and preachers are people with personality strengths and weaknesses just like everybody else. They’re anointed and God called, but that doesn’t mean they lose their distinctiveness. Pastors are not monolithic. This diversity of personalities and leadership styles is helpful and necessary for the overall health of the Church.
I’m fascinated by personality studies. There are hundreds of them (I still prefer Why You Act the Way You Do? by Tim Lahaye). Like many teenagers, I was awkward with a touch of moroseness; understanding why people acted the way they acted helped me make sense of the world, and it still does (here’s a very brief online temperament test that tends to be scary accurate).
From a ministry leadership standpoint, having a grasp of basic personality types is invaluable. When you understand personality differences you are less likely to be offended or caught off guard by common weaknesses. You spot strengths faster and see buried potential in people as well.
Even more importantly, understanding your own personality creates self-awareness. Knowing your own temperament will help you avoid lots of grief. We’ve all worked alongside people who are completely unaware of their flaws and overconfident about mediocrity. Or worse, they can’t see their own tremendous potential. That lack of self-awareness is dangerous in a leadership paradigm.
I’m a pastor’s kid and a pastor. I’ve spent my whole life observing preachers and pastors from all around the world. I love pastors and have been blessed with the opportunity to regularly interact with dynamic preachers. Over the years, I’ve observed fourteen distinct pastoral leadership styles that are a direct result of personality types and influences.
Most pastors and preachers are a mixture of several of these styles but predominated by one. Each of the styles listed below contains distinct giftings and shortcomings. I don’t think one style is any better than the other. What’s important, regardless of which leadership style a personality enables, is that the strengths are cultivated and the weaknesses are minimized.
My prayer is that this list will be helpful to pastors and maybe a few saints as well. Most problems between saints and pastors are nothing more than personality conflicts. Many saints misunderstand their pastor’s personality and find unnecessary offense and vice versa. I highly respect and honor every pastoral temperament and mean no disrespect by discussing them in this format. The Bible gives us snapshots of spiritual leaders from diverse backgrounds and emphasizes drastic differences between personalities. It’s still that way today.
So, let’s jump into the fourteen distinct pastoral personalities and their resulting leadership styles. Remember as you read, you or your pastor are likely a blend of more than one of these styles, but one will outshine the others.
The Theologian is a master of doctrinal dispositions and a student of Scriptural nuance. They are intensely smart. The Theologian is well versed in even the most obscure details of Scripture. Minutia matters in a big way to this kind of pastor. They’re likely to be a more introverted temperament with a strong sense of self-discipline. The Theologian’s quiet confidence and knowledge inspires and brings clarity to those around him.
Strengths: attention to detail, doctrinally sound, calming, focused, inspire spiritual confidence, produce well-rounded disciples, mentor other leaders, produce helpful resources, and hold the line against invading false doctrines. The Theologian is an irreplaceable and indispensable resource within the kingdom of God.
Weaknesses: The Theologian struggles with being heavy on information and light on application. They can be extremely introverted (check out this article for introverted leaders). At times, they borderline being extremely anti-social. The Theologian’s hyper sense of focus can easily be mistaken for unfriendliness. The Theologian’s natural tendency when teaching and preaching is to remain bland and detached; making an otherwise powerful presentation, low impact.
The Teacher is much like The Theologian minus the extensive doctrinal savvy. That’s not to say they don’t have strong doctrinal grounding, they do. The Teacher fills an important and tragically underemphasized role as outlined in Ephesians 4:11-13. Although their ministry may seem less dynamic on the surface, nothing could be further from the truth. The teacher grounds what other more extroverted ministries leave unfinished. In many cases, The Teacher is introverted but not always.
Strengths: mentally disciplined, consistent, highly organized, carefully structured, well-rounded, dependable, typically compassionate, produces helpful resources, inspires confidence, exposes and corrects false doctrine, strengthens other ministers, and produces other ministries. The Teacher is extraordinarily dependable, trustworthy, and unflinchingly honest.
Weaknesses: usually lacks creativity, resists healthy changes and struggles to engage people emotionally. The Teacher finds it difficult to be concise and naturally overloads people with more information than they can retain in one sitting. The Teacher’s high level of intelligence can unintentionally seem arrogant and condescending.
The Authoritarian has an enormously outgoing and strong personality. This leadership style is usually coupled closely with one of the other personalities on this list. The Authoritarian has a top-down mindset. Authoritarians are confident, self-assured, and strong willed (making them exceptionally gifted and effective preachers). They make an impression everywhere they go and are easily spotted in any setting. Authoritarians have a keen sense of right and wrong, loyalty and disloyalty, honor and dishonor, and law and order. They command respect and inspire others to do great things. Many of the great leaders in the Bible were authoritarians.
Strengths: brave, concise, competent, efficient, inspirational, self-disciplined, and confident. The Authoritarian inspires the kind of loyalty that generals have when leading troops into battle. They are fearless, focused, accomplished, disciplined, and courageous. They never do what the crowd is doing just because the crowd is doing it. They make fierce friends and worthy adversaries. They are a true leader in every sense of the word.
Weaknesses: ego, pride, unwillingness to change course when needed, tone deaf, unkind, quick-tempered, and reckless. The Authoritarian struggles to accept wise counsel and respect the reasoned opinions of others. Because authoritarians are so often right, they don’t handle being wrong very well. Strong people are attracted to an authoritarian’s leadership. However, more sensitive people are easily wounded by The Authoritarians aggressive personality. Without meaning to, authoritarians occasionally harm gentler personalities without even knowing it. The Authoritarian naturally lacks compassion for weaker vessels. Because loyalty is so important to The Authoritarian; disloyalty (whether real or perceived) is met with overly punitive measures. Their mission mindedness makes them extremely effective in completing tasks but generally, makes them lose sight of the feelings and emotions of the people around them.
The People Person is an interesting blend of introvert and extrovert. In the right setting they are incredibly outgoing, but in other settings they become unusually quiet. The People Person likes people, likes to be liked by other people, and likes people to like other people. They are talkative, emotional, engaging, charming, fun, humorous, witty, and networked. They thrive in a crowded room. They thrive off the energy of large groups. They dislike being alone. Their effervescent personality makes them terrific communicators. Their preaching and teaching is often full of humor and down-to-earth relatability.
Strengths: passionate, compassionate, likable personality, great communication skills, super relatable, community builders, bring other personalities together (networking), very creative, open to ideas and opinions, make people feel loved, and big hearted. The People Person operates on bursts of creative and emotional energy that is compelling and contagious. They always have big plans that usually includes bringing people together in one way or another. They are inclusive and exude self-confidence even when they don’t feel confident.
Weaknesses: quickly discouraged, easily offended, insecure, prone to bouts of melancholia, sometimes quick-tempered, disorganized, lack follow through, forgetful, appear shallow, and enigmatic. The People Person has lots of big ideas but doesn’t implement them well because they constantly overlook “pesky” details. In worst case scenarios, that same inattention to detail causes them to be doctrinally imbalanced. Because they love people deeply they are also hurt deeply by people. The People Person seems confident but often wrestles with profound insecurities. Their desire to be liked can be detrimental when making difficult decisions. They handle rejection poorly. The People Person’s desire to be center stage may cause them to feel jealousy when others are in the spotlight. They privately battle depression but most folks would never know it.
The Orator is not a standalone personality trait although it does become a defining characteristic for many pastors. Not all dynamic orators are great leaders and not all great leaders are dynamic orators. However, when the two are combined it becomes incredibly potent. Biblically speaking, I think the apostle Paul was an example of a powerful orator (Acts 17:22-31). The Orator is demarcated as being an incredibly moving preacher and communicator. Regardless of their other traits, they have the uncommon innate ability and God-given anointing to move crowds via preaching. Their preaching calls people to repentance, builds faith, motivates change, encourages, convicts, and shapes entire generations. The Orator is not typecast into one personality or leadership style. Their gift crosses lines and spectrums. Some are extremely inward while others are highly outgoing. Some pour themselves out while preaching and finish empty and spent, while others are fueled up by preaching and finish with a frenzy of energy. Regardless, their gift is usually in high demand.
Strengths: highly skilled communicators, heavily anointed, insightful, introspective, unique, inspirational, thought provoking, culture shaping, smart, mentally organized, prepared, persuasive, influential, compelling, convincing, adept, well-read, forward thinking, sensitive to the Spirit, and they exude confidence. The Orator often plays a key role in influencing movements and instigating revival on a large scale even without official positions or titles.
Weaknesses: pride and ego are dangers that every single spiritual leader must navigate, but this is especially true for The Orator. Because they are so gifted and well-liked their egos can swell easily. The Orator needs the anointing just like every other preacher, but they typically have natural abilities that could just as easily make them great politicians, salesman, motivational speakers, or actors. This means, if they aren’t careful they will rely on their own ability rather than the Lord. Also, because powerful orators are in such demand they may not always have time to develop other leadership skills before they are launched into public ministry. As the old saying goes, “not all great preachers make great pastors, and not all great pastors are great preachers.” Because orators love preaching and communicating so much, it’s often difficult for them to invest their time into developing other important attributes. However, when they do, they are amazingly impactful within the kingdom of God.
The Nice Guy is just that, a nice guy. This person genuinely cares and has a sincerity that cannot be denied. They lead from a solid core of kindness. Their personality is gentle and calming. Everyone they meet feels loved. Everything they do flows from love. They can be introverted or extroverted but meekness (not weakness) is their dominate trait. This kind of leader’s personality is usually coupled with a complimentary style; typically, The Theologian, The Teacher, The Orator, The People Person, The Poet Performer, The Organizer, The Motivator, The Weeping Prophet, or The Dreamer. They reap a loyal following because of their sincere and warm demeanor. I imagine John the Beloved (John 19:26-27) as a biblical example of the Nice Guy.
Strengths: kindness, compassion, empathy, loyalty, sincerity, warmth, and relatability. Notwithstanding other flaws, much is forgivable with The Nice Guy because they are so likable. People are drawn to them like a magnet. Their love for others flows from their love for the Lord.
Weaknesses: on the surface, you wouldn’t think The Nice Guy could have weaknesses, but they do. They dislike confrontation more than the average leader, making them anemic in crisis situations where confrontation is needed. They are often too slow to rebuke and correct, which causes problems to escalate that could have been alleviated. They are susceptible to being victimized by manipulators and blindsided by pretenders. The Nice Guy may shy away from necessary doctrines that might offend the hearers. In other words, sometimes they forget that love must often be tough.
The Poet Performer is artistic, talented, and entertaining. David comes to mind as a biblical example of The Poet Performer (1 Samuel 16:16). The Poet Performer doesn’t necessarily have to be musical, but they are always creative, imaginative, and gifted in some artistic way (oftentimes they are multi-talented). They are cerebral. Like David they can also be a warrior, but they are predisposed to spiritual things. Praise and worship comes as naturally as breathing to The Poet Performer. They are anointed in almost everything they do. They are emotional, sincere, and sensitive.
Strengths: aside from their talent, The Poet Performer is smart, intensely spiritual, focused, and passionate. Their worship compels others to worship. Their creativity helps others to experience God in dynamic and dramatic ways. They breathe life, energy, and passion into the Church. When The Poet Performer preaches it is with cadence and rhythm, almost like a spoken song.
Weaknesses: much like The Orator, The Poet Performer is prone to egotism and pride. They have so much intrinsic talent that even if they stop depending on the Spirit, they can still manipulate a crowd’s emotions. They receive a lot of adulation (deservedly), which if not received correctly produces narcissism. The Poet Performer’s emotions fluctuate wildly (just read the Psalms); hysterically happy one minute and manically melancholy the next. Selfishness is another personal battle that many Poet Performers must fight.
Caveats: again, I feel compelled to mention that most ministers are not a perfect match to any one of the above traits. The strengths and weaknesses are generalities, not absolutes. Also, commenting on weaknesses is not intended to be disrespectful or to help generate criticism. Rather, the intent behind this writing is to help us address issues with clarity and resolution. If you take the time to peruse the related articles below you will find that I support apostolic ministry and believe that pastors should be vigorously supported. Saints, I believe you should give your pastor the benefit of the doubt and lift his arms when and where he is weak. Celebrate his strengths and honor his faithful service at every opportunity.
This past Father’s Day I enjoyed celebrating fatherhood with my family. I love being a father; I love all that it involves, every nuance that it brings to life. And yet I worry, I worry about the culture that my children will face; I worry about subtle influences that gently creep into young hearts. You see, I’m fourth generation Apostolic, statistics tell me that my children will likely not fall in love with Truth. I’ve always hated math anyway, so I’ve chosen to reject what the data tells me, and do everything in my power to see that my children serve God.
The Scriptures are filled with fatherly role models, and we find some not so great examples as well. David, the sensitive poet, described as “a man after God’s own heart,” was a good king and a terrific military leader but not the best father. The life and faith of Abraham, God’s friend and father of a nation leaves us with many good lessons. Others, like Isaac and Jacob, had mixed success as fathers. The New Testament is remarkably void of fatherly details. In fact, some of the stronger dads in the Bible were obscure and minor characters in Scripture. Others were obedient to God in their own time but failed completely to pass their faith on to their families.
Allow me to remind you of a godly father who encourages me to believe that my children and my children’s children can indeed serve God. You may have forgotten about Jonadab, his story is so briefly told in Scripture. We first read about Jonadab the son of Rechab in II Kings chapter 15 when Jehu the 11th king of Israel made an alliance with Jonadab to destroy the followers of Baal. King Jehu knew that Jonadab was zealous for God and an influential man. Together they successfully completed what the prophet Elijah had begun. They destroyed all the worshippers of Baal. So complete was this destruction that the pagan worship of Baal (which sometimes included parents sacrificing their own children) was wiped out in Israel, and the temple of Baal was torn down and made into a garbage dump.
We don’t know a lot about Jonadab’s life or his style of parenting but we do know that when it was time to take a stand, he took a stand. When it was time to choose a side, he chose the Lord’s side. When he became a father, he chose to BE a father. He wasn’t anxiously waiting for his children to turn 18 so that he could be free of his parental responsibilities. He understood that fatherhood is a lifelong commitment. He also understood that the spiritual well-being of his children was just as important as the physical well-being of his children.
In great wisdom Jonadab commanded his children to abstain from wine and strong drink. He warned them to dwell in tents and not buy houses. He asked them not to plant vineyards or to buy fields and plant seeds. Jonadab set standards to preserve his family BOTH physically and spiritually. Some of his guidelines sound unreasonable to us even today. But he wanted to insure that his family could survive the changes in Israel that would come when the nation was destroyed. He took measures that would permanently set them apart. They were to live differently than those around them. They were to maintain moral purity. He didn’t want them to get too comfortable in a dangerous place.
Most people today would say that he was old fashioned and behind the times when, in reality, he was ahead of the times. He was preparing his family for the tragedy that was coming to Israel in a few short years. Many other families didn’t survive because they had been living the “good life.” But Jonadab’s family survived pagan invasion after murderous invasion because they listened to their father.
How could he know that these things were going to happen in the near future? He knew by faith because he believed the words of the prophets who were speaking into his life. Several prophets had predicting the destruction of Israel. Elijah had predicted the complete destruction of the family of Ahab and Jezebel. Perhaps Jonadab was a little boy on Mt. Carmel when Elijah challenged the prophets of Baal. Maybe he saw the fire of God fall. Maybe he witnessed the prophets of Baal fall on their faces and cry, “The Lord, He is God!” He would only need to see a miracle like that ONCE to know that Baal was a defeated god. Again, it was Elijah who prophesied that Jehu would be king of Israel. Somehow Jonadab instilled a RESPECT in his family’s heart for men of God and the WORD of God. Even after his death he left a continuing legacy of RESPECT.
While other dads were allowing their families to worship God and Baal at the same time, Jonadab remained zealous for the one true God. When everyone else had accepted that Baal worship was a necessary evil, Jonadab said, “NOT SO!” I wonder if Jonadab remembered Joshua’s powerful declaration, “…as for me and my house, we will serve the Lord” when he agreed to risk his life taking a stand against the worshippers of Baal? He centered his family’s life around God’s word. But none of this would have made any difference if he had not been consistent in his private life. Our families notice our inconsistencies and sense our secret sins. Faith, faithfulness, greatness, integrity, strength of character, and moral purity are things we learn by example and not by decree.
After II Kings chapter 15 it is almost three hundred years after Jonadab’s death before his name is mentioned again. Judah is in great turmoil. Idolatry is everywhere. Jerusalem is about to be captured, destroyed and plundered by the Babylonians. Thousands of Israelites are about to endure the humiliation of captivity in Babylon. The prophet Jeremiah had been pleading with Judah for almost 40 years to turn from their sin and unbelief. When suddenly in the middle of all this chaos God spoke to Jeremiah and said, “Go find the descendants of Jonadab.” God told Jeremiah to test Jonadab’s legacy. They gathered his descendants together gave them jugs of wine and invited them to have a drink. That’s when something truly astonishing happened. They refused. “No,” they said, “we will not drink wine, our ancestor Jonadab son of Rechab gave us this command: ‘You and your descendants must never drink wine. And do not build houses or plant crops or vineyards, but always live in tents. If you follow these commands, you will live long, good lives in the land.’ So we have obeyed him in all these things. We have never had a drink of wine to this day, nor have our wives, our sons, or our daughters. We haven’t built houses or owned vineyards or farms or planted crops. We have lived in tents and have fully obeyed all the commands of our forefather.”
Almost 300 years after his death Jonadab’s children were still benefiting from his wisdom. He left a continuing legacy. The obedience of six generations was based on one man’s faithfulness. In Jeremiah 35:19, we see one of the most extraordinary promises given to a father and his family in the entire Bible. The word of the Lord came to Jeremiah and rewarded the faithfulness and obedience of Jonadab and his descendants, saying, “Jonadab, the son of Rechab, shall not lack a man to stand before me forever.” Jonadab even after his death was promised that he would always have descendants serving God.
This means that somewhere in our world today a descendant of Jonadab still survives and serves the Lord. This promise from God is more valuable than power, fame, wealth, health, comfort, looks, intelligence, or any of the things that we pray our children will have. The legacy of Jonadab stands as a shining example that faith, moral purity, values, standards, and families can remain strong from generation to generation.
When asked the common query, ‘so what do you want for Christmas,’ I read once that one fellow jokingly responded, “A fortune!” Well, the time for seasonal wishing has passed us by so quickly, with a new year staring us in the face. But I could not help but think of some of the spiritual desires that come to mind at this time of year. What if we could receive whatever we longed for spiritually in the coming year, what would we long for? Why not take inventory of our genuine priorities this January and then resolve to see these things come to pass in our lives and in the kingdom of God? I’d like to reflect on a few of my own so that you can consider how they compare to yours. Think of these as possible Spiritual Resolutions for the New Year of 2017.
First, I sense more and more among God’s people and in my own heart a longing for a sovereign move of God in Holy Ghost Revival in the coming year. Souls are lost and need the power of the Gospel! We live in the most spiritually desperate generation since the time of the Apostles. Let us resolve to see a sweeping, notable revival that will touch lives and change families throughout our community. “Sow to yourselves in righteousness, reap in mercy; break up the fallow ground: for it is time to seek the Lord, till He come and rain righteousness upon you,” Hosea 10:12.
If we are to experience this as we desire, we must enter into a personal commitment to see and know the deeper things of the Spirit. Who do I long to see saved, changed, delivered, filled, baptized, healed, and blessed? That can only be accomplished in the atmosphere of surrender to God and in the outpouring of the Holy Ghost! Yes, that is my greatest desire for the coming year, to make this our primary resolution, to do our part, to yield our own selves. We know, also, though, that none of these things happen accidentally. They are the result of hungering for the will of God. “Wilt thou not revive us again: that thy people may rejoice in thee? Show us mercy, O Lord, and grant us thy salvation,” Psalm 85:6-7.
Another thing that I would like to mention as a spiritual priority for the coming year is the faith in God necessary to face whatever may come our way. Life isn’t always easy, as we’ve come to know. At times, it seems to make little sense. But God is great and greatly to be praised! During life’s difficult times, if they should come, Paul reminds us: “For we know that all things work together for good to them that love God,” Romans 8:28. What a comfort to know that, whatever comes, God’s promises remain true, and you and I will “be able to bear it,” 1 Corinthians 10:13. The resolve to praise God in the midst of our difficulties is a true mark of the work of the Spirit. What a marvelous commitment, to believe God, regardless. “Rejoice evermore. Pray without ceasing. In everything give thanks,” 1Thessalonians 5:16-18.
Here is a third consideration. Will I completely surrender myself to God in the coming year? Not merely a part, but all surrendered to God’s purpose and plan. Remember the precious hymn by Van De Venter and Weeden: All to Jesus I surrender, All to Him I freely give; I will ever love and trust Him, In His service daily live. Such worshipful music called our hearts to sacrifice in days’ past. We can resolve once again to say ‘yes’ to the prompting of the Spirit! All to Thee, my blessed Savior, I surrender all! If we are yielded to God, anything can happen. Just think of Moses, and David, and Gideon. They were yielded to God, though weak in themselves. And mighty things were done through God in their surrendered lives. Lord, so be it for the church in these last days!
Also, the desire to please God in all things is, surely, one of the spiritual resolutions which we need to place high on the list of priorities. Far too many in these perilous times seek the applause and approval of men, when they should desire, more than anything, God’s approval. “When a man’s ways please the Lord, he maketh even his enemies to be at peace with him,” Proverbs 16:7. “For do I now persuade men, or God? Or do I seek to please men? For if I yet pleased men, I should not be the servant of Christ,” Galatians 1:10. The Apostle means here that pleasing God is our priority. If we make that our resolve in 2017, we could impact the Kingdom of God in profound ways, I am certain.
Well, how about one more spiritual resolution for consideration? I would like to see this in my own life, as well as in the lives of the saints, as never before. I will resolve to love people. This is no trifling matter. “Though I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, and have not charity, I am become as sounding brass, or a tinkling cymbal,” 1 Corinthians 13:1. This old world is surely changing. But one thing remains the same—love is the very heart of God! We can, and we must love people into the kingdom. Otherwise, the business of the Church becomes mere noise, Paul argued. No. We are not content with stock reports and the latest in technology. We are concerned, first and foremost, for people, their lives, and their souls.
Best wishes for the New Year! God bless you one and all!
My father, Dr. Talmadge French, has also written a wonderfully helpful, best-selling, and concise tract on Jesus’ name baptism as well as several other great works. I have included a link for those here.
With 20K clicks in just 24 hours my last article, Should We Still Dress Our Best for Church?quickly became AV’s second most read post (second only to this article). It’s still getting thousands of interactions a day, and no one is more stunned than I am about it. Often, the articles I think will be the most interesting are overlooked, and the ones I throw together quickly gain insane levels of interest.
I’ve received tons of feedback about the article (more personal responses than any other post). To be fair, much of it has been very kind and supportive. Quick thanks to those who visited the French Thread store.
On the other hand, I received a lot of criticism. Some were well thought out, well-intentioned, and interesting. Others were thoughtless and hateful. My little “…latte sipping, skinny jean, cashmere wearing liberals…” jab probably deserved some good counter punches. I don’t mind criticism, it comes with the territory. You shouldn’t write, speak, sing, or preach publicly if you’re thin-skinned.
Two things did surprise me though; the very strong emotions that people feel concerning church attire (among other things, I’ve been called legalistic, hateful, egomaniac, haughty, jerk, old-fashioned, and my personal favorite… parasitical), and the knee-jerk reactions of the critics (many responded to the article simply by reading the title and not the content). How can you debate against a proposal that you haven’t considered? It confirms that our culture is highly opinionated yet tremendously understudied. Opinions steeped in feelings rather than reflective thinking provoke strong emotional outbursts.
I usually do not write follow up responses to my own articles, but the lively debates have exposed several key issues that I feel need to be addressed and a few clarifications that need to be made. This post will probably seem a little more disjointed than my usual writings and for that, I apologize. It’s simply easier to respond to the critics in one public setting rather than give the same responses over and over again in private messages.
Clarifications & Response to the Critics: Let me be very clear, I do not believe that wearing a suit and tie will save you. I have known many tremendous Christians who didn’t wear suits or ties to church. They did, however, dress respectfully in what they considered their best.
For those who accused me of “adding” to the Gospel; the article in question was not a theological discourse. It was a thoughtful discussion about what is “best” and most appropriate for corporate worship. Mainly, what is “most” favorable for fostering a respectful and worshipful environment, which should be the goal of every church service. Essentially, I was speaking culturally about spiritual things. I know. I know. Cultural debates are dangerous… just try preaching about Christianity’s ongoing love affair with sports, Hollywood, sex, and immodest fashion trends.
I do acknowledge that there is some room for debate in regards to what respectful attire looks like in American culture. The article was directed towards Western Christians who already have a deep relationship with God. I also affirm that non-believers should “come as they are” but my prayer is that God will transform them with His Spirit (internally and externally). The demoniac ran to Jesus from the tombs naked and tormented, but left clothed and in his right mind (Matthew 8:28-34, Mark 5:1-20). My experience has been that ultra-casual church attire is accompanied by ultra-casual worship, and ultra-casual worship is a symptom of casual dedication.
Interestingly, when Jacob and his family went back to Bethel (literally translated, the house of God) they did four things: they got rid of their idols, they cleaned up, they changed their clothes, and they buried their earrings (Genesis 35:1-4). Concerning Genesis 35:2 the Adams Clark Commentary says:
“Personal or outward purification, as emblematical of the sanctification of the soul, has been in use among all the true worshippers of God from the beginning of the world. In many cases the law of Moses more solemnly enjoined rites and ceremonies which had been in use from the earliest ages.”
Several people have objected to dressing “up” for church out of concern for how the poor or homeless might feel in the service. That’s a noble sentiment when genuine, although it’s often used as a red herring argument. First, dressing our best doesn’t have to be expensive or trendy. Second, I’ve been to many “hip” churches that dressed very casually but their shoes cost more than my whole outfit. You can make people uncomfortable in hundreds of little ways. Third, if you live your life by this standard you should apply it to the car you drive and the house you live in because all those things could make a poor person feel uncomfortable.
I’ve seen many poor homeless people find salvation who desperately wanted to rise out of their situation, not stay stuck there. In fact, sometimes they feel like people are condescending when they try to be “like” them (think Gucci faux grunge in the soup kitchen). The key is to treat people from every walk of life with true love and compassion. People can tell if you really care whether you’re wearing a tie or a T-Shirt.
Every culture has a type of attire that is culturally deemed respectful or dressy and conversely, every culture has attire that is designed to be rebellious and disrespectful (think jeans that intentionally sag down to the knees). You don’t have to be a genius to know those fashion designers intentionally design clothes to make a statement of some kind. T-Shirts are just walking advertisements. There’s even a style of dress commonly referred to as a “cocktail” dress.
It would be intellectually dishonest to ignore the reality that there are types of clothing that are culturally speaking, inherently disrespectful and vice versa. For example, most American citizens still put on a suit and tie to meet the president of the United States at the White House. Why? As a symbol of respect and honor for the position (even if they don’t like the man).
Nevertheless, there’s an astonishing theme that I’ve noticed trending from the most vehement objectors; many people do not believe that a church service is special or worthy of respect or any kind of special consideration. Most of these objectors acknowledge that certain clothing is more respectful than others, but maintain that it is irrelevant because a Sunday service is no more important than getting coffee (or a beer) with friends who happen to be Christians.
Their arguments stem from the assumption that the early Church was incredibly informal and that the whole Sabbath thing is so “Old Testament” and therefore, completely immaterial. Any other view is considered by them to be pharisaical and legalistic (by the way, that whole “legalism” thing gets taken out of context way too often, but that’s another subject for another day).
So, what about the early Church? What about the Lord’s Day? Is Sunday special or not? These are incredibly important questions with far-reaching ramifications. Early Christians considered resurrection Sunday to be a spiritual embodiment of the Sabbath (here’s a great article that delves deeper into that subject). John the Revelator called it the “Lord’s Day (Revelations 1:10).” Literally translated, the “Lord’s Day” means “the day belonging to the Lord.” Markedly, the Holy Ghost was first poured out on a Sunday (Acts 2:1-36). Early Christians viewed the Lord’s Day with the same pious reverence with which they had previously observed the Old Testament Sabbath.
Consider how the writer of Hebrews speaks of the Church:
“Wherefore we having received a kingdom which cannot be moved, let us have grace, whereby we may serve God acceptably with reverence and godly fear(Hebrews 12:28).”
Clearly, we are to view the things of God and his Church with veneration and admiration.
Furthermore, Jesus did not say, “The gates of Hell shall not prevail against you or me.” He said, “…I will build my church; and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it (Matthew 16:18).”
Consider another important Scripture that gives us a glimpse into the way the apostles viewed the Church:
“These things write I unto thee, hoping to come unto thee shortly: But if I tarry long, that thou mayest know how thou oughtest to behave thyself in the house of God, which is the church of the living God, the pillar and ground of the truth (1 Timothy 3:14-15).”
The apostle Paul was emphasizing certain parameters that should be observed within the house of God. Early church services were not unplanned gatherings without leadership or organization. It wasn’t just a coffee break or an informal get-together. It was the sacred assembly of God’s holy people (here’s an easy to read articleon the biblical distinctions between private and public worship).
Private worship is important but not to the exclusion of public worship. They serve different purposes and they are both imperative to the Christian life. This is a topic that deserves a lot more attention but for the sake of time let’s move on.
The most common objections came from people who don’t think God cares how we dress under any circumstances. Modesty to them is pure legalism. Any kind of outward holiness is loathsome. Their favorite verse in the Bible just happens to be an Old Testament verse, which I find interesting because this same crowd typically preaches to me about how we are no longer bound by anything in the Old Testament. They usually misquote a fragment of the verse as saying, “God doesn’t look at the outward appearance; He “only” looks at the heart.”
Does God only look at the heart? This is an important question that every Christian can and should settle once and for all. Let’s look at the actual verse in question in the original context:
“But the Lord said unto Samuel, Look not on his countenance, or on the height of his stature; because I have refused him: for the Lord seeth not as man seeth; for man looketh on the outward appearance, but the Lord looketh on the heart (1 Samuel 16:7).”
This is the scene where God was about to anoint young David through the prophet Samuel to be the next king of Israel. All Samuel knew is that one of Jesse’s sons had been chosen by God (1 Samuel 16:1). When he saw the older stronger brothers he naturally assumed one of them was God’s chosen. Especially because king Saul was a tall man with a kingly countenance (1 Samuel 9:2). But God didn’t want Samuel to make the mistake of choosing the wrong son just because of his appearance. God knew that David was a man after his own heart despite his youthful appearance and inexperience (1 Samuel 16:11-12).
The spiritual principle at work in 1 Samuel 16:7 is that God is not fooled or swayed by outward appearances alone. God is not impressed by the superficial. God has the supernatural ability to see beyond our exterior into our innermost being. He sees our true intentions, our deepest desires, and our secret longings. While man may see physical strength, God sees spiritual weakness. Where man may only see outward sincerity, God sees inward corruption. This is refreshing and sobering at the same time.
I wholeheartedly believe in outward holiness, but without inward holiness, the outward is in vain. Genuine inward holiness will produce outward expressions of holiness as well. For example, a man may love his wife with all his heart and because of that, it affects his outward actions towards her and for her. If he abused his wife that would be an outward display of inward problems. If he cheated on his wife that would be an outward display of inward problems. If he wears something she genuinely hates that would be an outward display of inward disregard. If he blatantly and publicly disrespects her that would be an outward manifestation of an inward problem. Avoiding those things is not legalism. It’s love.
This whole discussion has brought the issue of modesty into play several times. The hermeneutical law of first mention makes the issue of modest clothing incredibly important. Remember, after Adam and Eve sinned in the Garden they lost their innocence and realized they were naked. In response, they inadequately covered themselves with fig leaves (Genesis 3:7). God saw that they were still immodest so he personally made a coat of skins and clothed them sufficiently (Genesis 3:21). Modesty is a common theme that runs throughout the Old and New Testament.
One furious individual wrote to me and said, “I wanted to speak at my church and they told me I had to wear a collared shirt… talk about controlling.” Now I realize the Bible doesn’t condone collared shirts as sacred. And I realize collars aren’t necessarily evidence of sanctification, but doesn’t a church have the right to maintain a dress code of some kind? Most jobs have a dress code. Shouldn’t the church have some influence?
My daughter just had her first piano recital and she was given a very specific list of what-not-to-wear. We had no problem with that because we respect the institution’s stated goals of artistry and excellence. I’m not even going to bother with theological examples of authority and respect. Doesn’t common cultural decency inform us that we should have some deference to spiritual and secular authority? Apparently, it no longer does and that’s sad.
You’d be surprised how many people think that Jesus dressed like a bum! Yep. I’m getting tons of emails claiming that Jesus was the son of a carpenter and probably dressed like a poor country boy. The implication being that since Jesus was poor and likely dressed poorly we should too. One individual even claimed that carpentry should be a prerequisite for the ministry.
While I think, a good argument could be made that carpentry wasn’t necessarily poverty level, it is obvious in Scripture that Jesus came from humble beginnings. However, it has no bearing on the discussion at hand. Nowhere am I indicating that poverty-stricken people should be financially irresponsible and buy fancy clothing before they attend church. Dressing “our” best may vary from person to person and from paradigm to paradigm.
Just to keep things interesting, let me throw out a little tidbit of information that many people overlook. As you probably know, the Bible doesn’t really say much about Jesus’ appearance or wardrobe. We can extrapolate some things based on the cultural norms of his time but that’s about it.
However, the Bible does make one mention of the Lord’s “seamless” garment (John 19:23). This is the garment that the soldiers gambled for amongst themselves. Why? Because a seamless garment was valuable. In fact, the consensus seems to be that this was the kind of garment usually owned by wealthy royalty (check out this short little article). I don’t think this means we should all go out and buy royal garments, I’m just saying Jesus apparently wasn’t running around in rags as many suggest.
The final objection that I’d like to address generally goes something like this, “Christians who wear suits and ties to church seem haughty, arrogant, and condescending.” Sometimes they follow up with a statement like, “It seems to me like a suit and tie fosters a spirit of vanity and showiness that would be unpleasing to God.” I know that this is often just a misperception, but I still think this is the one objection that has some real merit.
So, this is where I preach to my like-minded friends for just a moment. All our dressing up out of respect for the house of God is valueless if we don’t love and respect others (1 Corinthians 13:1). If we’re condescending, unkind, derisive, or prideful we have missed the point. My friends, I’m am imploring us all to speak the truth in love and demonstrate that holiness is inward as well as outward. If we respect God we will respect others (Matthew 7:12, Romans 12:10, Philippians 2:3, 1 Peter 2:17, John 13:34-35). Don’t let inward filth defile the beauty of outward consecration. Vanity is always wrong no matter what we’re wearing or not wearing.
I’m a millennial and I still think it’s best to wear our best to church. Recently my brother (Jonathan) and his wife (Vera) launched an online tie store called French Thread (shameless plug). Their company is awesome and it’s a great conversation starter. In particular, the issue of the so-called church “dress wars” comes up from time to time. No, I don’t think a suit will save you or jeans will jinx you; I just think God’s house deserves our respect. I can hear the groans from latte sipping, skinny jean, cashmere wearing liberals now… and yes, I know the Church is made up of people, not buildings. In fact, I’ll take you all the way down that road; our bodies are literally temples of the Holy Ghost (1 Corinthians 6:19). Meaning, it matters how we dress, speak, talk, eat, live, and on and on. And not just at church, but every day. Our bodies represent Jesus. His holiness, His majesty, and His royalty dwell within us. I want to represent the Holy Spirit to the best of my ability (whatever that may be).
Having said that, the church house is a building specifically designated and dedicated to worshipping a God that is awesome beyond our wildest imaginations. His presence is everywhere, but a church is dedicated to worship and the Word. When functioning properly, a church is a collection of unified, Spirit-filled, enthusiastic individuals who show up to lift up the name of Jesus. They come to learn, grow, praise, and experience the presence of God in a way that only collective worship allows. The singing is sacred, the preaching is powerful, the prayer is purposeful, and the atmosphere is faithful. A gathering of the Church in any place or building on the Lord’s Day (Acts 20:7, 1 Corinthians 16:1-2, Psalms 118:22-26) is a convocation of holy people worshipping a holy God (i.e. a holy convocation). Basically, church is a big deal, God is the biggest deal, and because worship is not a casual thing we should not dress informally. I dress up for church for the same reasons I dress up for weddings; it’s a sacred time and I want to honor it.
Psychologists know that how we dress impacts our mindset greatly (here, here, here, and here). Schools have found that uniforms foster a focused classroom. Conversely, anything goes dress codes promote lazy, casual, and disrespectful demeanors (here, here). Studies of businesses show that productivity dramatically decreases on casual Fridays (here, here). We all instinctively know this to be true deep down. There’s a reason we buy special clothes for vacation; certain types of clothing make us feel more relaxed (you can always spot a tourist). It’s not a coincidence that people dress a certain way to go clubbing or hit the bars, they have a certain goal and a certain mindset and they dress accordingly. There’s a reason why politicians, lawyers, business professionals, newsmen, doctors, pilots, military personnel, pastors (at least historically), and even late night comedians mostly wear dress clothes while representing their endeavors. They are showing respect for their profession, themselves, and others. They exude confidence, competence, focus, command, and elicit trust.
I know there’s a certain charm to feeling the liberty to wear jeans and T-shirts to church (or whatever). It’s easy, casual, convenient, and relaxing. And therein, lies the problem; church is not designed to be easy, casual, convenient, or relaxing. Yikes! I know how politically incorrect that statement sounds, but nevertheless it’s true.
Church is meant to be exciting, exhilarating, exalting, and life changing. If you think that sounds sillier than passing up a Krispy Kreme when the “hot” sign is on, it’s because you haven’t experienced the moving of the Spirit in a tangible way (at least not recently). Like it or not, preaching is not inherently designed by God to only be positive and encouraging K-Love radio, sometimes it’s for correction, conviction, instruction, and rebuke (1 Timothy 5:20, 2 Timothy 4:2, 2 Timothy 3:16-17, Luke 17:3-4, Mark 16:14). I don’t want my pastor looking like he’s about go camping for the same reasons I don’t want my lawyer looking like he’s about to go play video games in his Mom’s basement; it reeks of immaturity, incompetence, indifference, and frivolity. None of those images inspire confidence, gravitas, or respect. Furthermore, church is a sacred time where we come into direct contact with Divine anointing, revelation, illumination, salvation, sanctification, and the list could go on for miles. Bottom line, it’s not casual.
Let me address objections that I often hear from the promoters of super casual church attire. It usually goes something like this “Isn’t it a waste of money to buy dress clothes?” It’s normally followed up with “Couldn’t that money be better spent another way?” Typically, a caustic accusation of vanity is leveled as well. First, those statements are eerily like the arguments that Judas employed against Mary for breaking her alabaster box over the feet of Jesus (John 12:3-8). An argument that Jesus promptly rejected (I wouldn’t call Judas a great role model). Second, dressing in a respectful, dignified way doesn’t necessarily have to be expensive. Third, I recently performed a wedding alongside a pastor who was adamantly against wearing a suit and tie to church. Ironically, he spent a lot of time bragging about his $300 name brand jeans and his $400 distressed leather boots. I don’t necessarily care what he paid for what, but obviously hip “casual” clothes can be just as expensive and vain as a suit and tie.
If you walk away from this article assuming I think a tie has some salvific value you’d be dead wrong. Neither do I expect guests to change their wardrobe before they walk through the doors of the church house! Also, I fully acknowledge that if people aren’t careful, “dressing up” can devolve into vanity and showiness! I do think, however, that as we mature spiritually our level of reverence towards the things of God should grow exponentially (1 Timothy 3:14-15, 1 Peter 2:5). As that happens, we should begin to dress reverently for church (Hebrews 12:28).
This excerpt from an article by CNN writer John Blake offers a further perspective:
The reasons why people stopped dressing up could fill a book. Yet Fulwiler offers one explanation that’s seldom mentioned – lack of gratitude.
Fulwiler’s revelation came one day as she watched scruffily dressed people board a plane. She flashed back to a black-and-white photo she had seen of her grandparents boarding a plane in the 1940s. Most of the passengers were dressed in suits and ties and dresses because air travel was such a privilege at the time.
“We dress up for what we’re grateful for,” she says. “We’re such a wealthy, spoiled culture that we feel like we have a right to fly on airplanes,” says Fulwiler, author of “Something Other than God,” which details her journey from atheism to Christianity.
Church is like air travel now – it’s no longer a big deal because people have lost their sense of awe before God, Fulwiler says.
Yet some of these same people who say it doesn’t matter how you dress for church would change their tune if they were invited to another event, Fulwiler says.
“If you had the opportunity to meet the Queen of England, you wouldn’t show up in at Windsor Castle wearing jeans and a T-shirt,” she says.
Shouldn’t people have that same reverential attitude when they show up at church to meet God, some ask? After all, doesn’t your dress reveal the importance you attach to an occasion?”
The real underlying question here is “should you choose to approach church casually or reverently”? Before you decide, ask yourself if it would be disrespectful to show up to a wedding in flip-flops and a T-shirt? Take that thought a little further, if you were the bride how would you dress? Certainly, as the bride of Christ, we should be reverent in our dress code as we gather to worship our Groom. Saints of old viewed it symbolically as a foretaste of the Great Marriage Supper of the Lamb (Revelations 19:6-9). Dressing “up” was a symbol of their profound respect for the things of God. I think they were right.
We sat holding our newborn baby, watching as the doctor drew a diagram. It was a heart. He drew what it should look like. Then he drew it with the four abnormalities of the congenital defect known as tetralogy, the condition with which our first son, Ryan, was born. At first, my untrained eyes didn’t even recognize the blueness around his little eyes and lips. We found ourselves in the midst of a journey for which we were so unprepared, a long walk of faith. But in those first few moments that day with the heart specialist, our world changed forever, and I was about to join the ranks of the “hospital moms!”
As home missionaries to a western Chicago suburb, we expected sacrifices and hardships, financial and personal. But we never expected anything like this. In fact, over the next six years Ryan underwent four complex open heart surgeries, at three months, eighteen months, four years and five years of age. And, each time, the surgeon was working only millimeters from Ryan’s coronary artery. Thankfully, the Lord understands when we question our circumstances, knowing that we see “through a glass darkly.” These were certainly the “desert of our days,” and our faith, like never before, would have to stand the test of fire. Like the three Hebrew children, we came to realize that faith is not merely knowing “God is able to deliver us.” We too prayed, “but if not,” as the operating room doors closed before us, only to find that same God standing with us in the midst of the fire.
Each was supposed to be the last, yet we came to the day we had to tell Ryan that he needed a fourth surgery. I will never forget the difficulty of explaining that to a five-year-old with vivid memories of his hospital experiences. For two years he was the poster child for the Chicago Metropolitan Heart Association. At the news of the surgery his blue eyes filled with tears. “What did I do wrong?” he asked. Quickly, we reassured him that he’d done nothing wrong. Nevertheless, the test of faith had come yet again. But, at age eight, when a previously inserted patch began to leak, and surgery was inevitable, the miracle came! My husband was preaching a camp on the east coast when, in the middle of the service, the Lord spoke to him that He had just healed Ryan! The doctor soon confirmed it, the leak had, indeed, sealed off. This time God had chosen to deliver from the fire.
Our hospital journey, though, was not ended. We had now been blessed with two more sons, Jonathan, two, and six-month-old Nathan. The very week of Ryan’s miracle, Jonathan, began limping and could barely walk. The doctor, after blood work and scheduling orthopedics, reassured us – lightning rarely “strikes twice in the same place.” Still, we felt something was very wrong. His fever spiked and he became lethargic. Then, suddenly, I had a sense of “knowing” exactly what was wrong. I shared it with my husband. With news now about the second of our sons, we received the call from our concerned family doctor, “I hate to have to tell you this, Reverend and Mrs. French.” Then, he said the very words I had spoken to my husband earlier, “Jonathan has leukemia!” We were to leave immediately for Chicago’s Children’s Memorial.
In the early morning hours, though dazed, the first miracle in this fiery trial became clear. As Jonathan was diagnosed with acute lymphatic leukemia, God had given me a word from Him. Then, the Lord said to me, “I spoke to you to assure you that I am here. I know all about it. My face is turned in your direction.” As battle-weary as we were, I desperately needed extra grace, so the Lord prepared the way, a peace beyond understanding. Nevertheless, the seemingly endless chemo, the needles, the non-sedated bone marrow aspirations, the spinals – were all incredibly difficult. But, early into treatment, I was blessed to hear Sis. Nona Freeman minister on the subject: “Praising the Lord in All Things!” God used it mightily. God was reminding me of the source of my strength amidst the trial – the power of praise!
Praise God for his mighty power! Twice God delivered Jon as he went into life-threatening septic shock, as doctors worked feverishly over him to save him. One day a newly purchased minivan suddenly appeared in our driveway, keys and all! Later, at a particularly low point, Jon could barely eat, yet the doctors allowed us to take him to his great grandfather’s funeral near St. Jude hospital. So we took him, as well, to a special service nearby for prayer. My husband’s unsaved step-father joined us and wanted to hold his grandson as they anointed him. The Lord’s touch was instantaneous, with Jon immediately asking his grandpa for something to eat! Powerfully moved, grandpa returned the next week and received the Holy Ghost!
The mountain of medical bills was miraculously wiped out, with one especially huge sum forgiven in total because they inexplicably lost the account! The trials left no hint of smoke, only the sweet aroma of the presence of the One Who stood with us in the midst of the fire. Both Ryan and Jon are well and active in the church we pastor in Atlanta, Ryan serving as Assistant and Jon as a vital part of our youth and music ministry. To God be the glory.
Rebecca French, alongside her husband, Dr. Talmadge French, has faithfully served the members of Apostolic Tabernacle in Jonesboro, Georgia, for five years. They have been married and leading in numerous ministry capacities for thirty-eight years. Rebecca’s greatest joy is that her three sons, their wives, and her three grandchildren serve the Lord.
God resists the proud (James 4:6), which is bad news for a church if it is full of pride. Spiritually dry and deadlocked churches are usually filled with pride. They’re spiritually stuck because God is literally resisting their efforts. What they’re doing might seem good on the surface but their motivations are displeasing to God.
Scripture is very clear about proper motivations; God doesn’t just care what we do, He cares how and why we do it. For example, God doesn’t just want us to give, He wants us to give cheerfully (2 Corinthians 9:7). Jesus warned against displaying our righteousness just to be seen and admired by others, there’s no reward for that kind of conceited righteousness (Matthew 6:1). Paul even warned that preaching the Gospel must be done for the right reasons (1 Thessalonians 2:4). In a staggering display of immaturity, the disciples asked Jesus to decide who was the greatest in the kingdom; Jesus took it as an opportunity to teach them that without childlike humility they would never see the kingdom of heaven (Matthew 18:1-35).
In a generation obsessed with talent competitions and spotlights, it’s no surprise that the thirst for attention has crept into the Church. It’s evidenced in pulpits and in pews. It’s on full display if you know the signs. There are certain “tells” or “giveaways” so to speak. There really is no way to overemphasize the importance of guarding our churches against being infected with prideful leaders. Even more importantly, we should carefully monitor our own motivations and quickly adjust when and where needed. Below are nine sure signs of a prideful heart. I use this list to check my own motives and the motives of those seeking position or platform in my local church. Many of these principles are universal and can be translated into any paradigm or organization.
They want to SING but they don’t want to SERVE.
They want to PREACH but they don’t want to PRAISE.
They want to LEAD but they don’t like LEADERSHIP.
They want to TAKE but they don’t want to GIVE.
They want RESPECT but they don’t show RESPECT.
They want the SPOTLIGHT but they resent SACRIFICE.
They like PUBLIC EMOTIONS but they dislike PRIVATE DEVOTIONS.
They are SELFISH rather than SELFLESS.
They produce FOLLOWERS rather than DISCIPLES of Jesus.
Now read this list again, but this time replace “they” with “I” and be brutally honest with yourself.
With Father’s Day quickly approaching I have taken time to pause and consider the importance of fatherhood. No one could ever deny the irreplaceable role that mother’s play in the lives of children, but in a culture where fathers are increasingly absent, minimized, and criticized it would do us well to consider a few areas where godly fathers should shine.
Dads must cherish their wives (Colossians 3:19, Ephesians 5:25).
Our children are watching and taking notes on how we fathers treat their mothers. Sons will emulate us and daughters often derive their self-perceptions by watching how you value the most important woman in your life.
Dads must spend time with their children (Ephesians 6:1-4).
There is no substitute for time spent with our children. We forfeit influence in our children’s lives when we fail to spend time with them. Make memories and teach life lessons while you can because if you don’t someone else (who likely doesn’t share your values) will.
Dads must raise their children to serve the Lord (Proverbs 22:6, Deuteronomy 6:1-9).
It’s alarming how many Christian parents I’ve heard saying things like, “I don’t want to force my beliefs on my children.” Be assured that every other religious and cultural force is working overtime to capture the hearts and minds of your children. Scripture is clear in telling us that godly parents are mandated to raise their children to serve the Lord. As a shining example for all future father’s Joshua famously declared, “…as for me and my house, we will serve the Lord (Joshua 24:15).” A further point in this subject needs to be stressed because it is vital to the spiritual success of our children; the Christian faith must be taught and taught well. A “just do as I say and be quiet” parenting style will alienate our children and push them away from God, which leads nicely to point number four.
Dads must be patient teachers (Ephesians 6:4, 2 Timothy 3:14-15).
Children are going to make mistakes and mess up and they will require godly patience from their fathers if they are going to flourish. Remember, the greatest lesson that we ever teach our children will be the daily example that we set and not the words that we say.
Dads must be fair disciplinarians (Proverbs 13:24; 23:13-14).
Fathers who fail to lovingly and fairly discipline their children will live to regret the outcome. To be a thoughtful and fair disciplinarian takes time, energy, and self-control. Take caution not to discipline in anger but rather discipline in love.
To celebrate three years of writing I have compiled the top 10 trending articles here at Apostolic Voice. It’s been very interesting seeing what articles have generated the most interest. For example, never in my wildest of dreams would I have thought that number two would become a trending article. Also, I want to say a huge thank you to my father and brother for contributing to this blog (three out of the ten articles are their guest entries). Thanks for reading.
In the last post, a foundation was laid to emphasize principle aspects of developing vision. That vision, obtained at the heights of the mountain, must be brought into the valley where life is lived. One of the greatest failures of attempted visionaries is the attempt to cast vision from the tops of mountains. Why? Because nobody lives on the mountain. Flags are planted on mountains but tents are pitched in the valley. One of the greatest examples in scripture that captures this top-down approach to vision development is found in the narrative of Moses and the Tabernacle. In fact, there are three primary elements revealed in this narrative that, if present in a local church, will translate to success! I call this the “Threefold Cord of Development.”
Cord #1: The Visionary
Seldom has anyone considered the awesome responsibility that was given to Moses while he stood in communion with God at the top of Mount Sinai. Consider with me the obstacles of Moses. First, Moses had to somehow transition the vision he received vertically (mountain) to the horizontal (valley). Somehow he had to take what no one in the valley had seen or heard and compress it into a vision the people would understand and promote. Every leader reading this recognizes what a challenge this can be.
Secondly, Moses had to convince the people to join together in a unified effort to build the Tabernacle. While this may not seem difficult at first glance, one must remember that Moses’ congregation was one of the most negative, rebellious, and discontent groups of the entire Old Testament narrative!
Thirdly, and this takes the proverbial cake, God not only sought an offering from the people but He demanded that the people must have a true desire to give freely (Exodus 24:1). Consider with me the ramifications of this! God wasn’t going to accept an offering of obligation. In other words, God refused to allow His vision to be built upon compulsory and begrudging givers. Every leader reading this should grasp the enormity of Moses’ task! How many offerings have you seen turned away today because people felt “obligated” to give? Exactly! However, Moses casts the vision and the people give exactly the way God had desired, so much so, Moses is forced to tell the people, “enough!” How does this happen?
First, it is important to recognize that vision without a clear and easily posited purpose is destined for confusion and noncommittal response. Clarified purpose in vision is crucial because purpose always drives design. In turn, this drives commitment to a vision. When the Wright Brother’s set out to design a flying machine, they did not draft blueprints for something meant to traverse underwater. Their underlying purpose drove their design; they wanted to fly! Because of this, their designs were driven to facilitate that specific purpose. People are willing to invest in something that has purpose! It was this very thing that motivated the Israelites to respond the way they did when Moses (the visionary) presented the vertical vision on a horizontal level.
God never gave Moses the blueprint for the Tabernacle without an intended purpose. In the case of the Tabernacle, the intended purpose was that God would “dwell in the midst of His people.” Obviously, seeing the people’s activity in designing the golden calf, they desired a “God in the middle.” This purpose (God’s dwelling) was enough to motivate the people to buy into a vision they themselves had not heard or seen. The abstract vision that Moses had received at the top of the mountain became a recognized reality for the people because it tugged at a deep longing within their hearts.
This is seen again in the events of Nehemiah as he stood before the people and declared, “Ye see the distress that we are in, how Jerusalem lieth waste, and the gates thereof are burned with fire: come, and let us build up the wall of Jerusalem, that we be no more a reproach” (Nehemiah 2:17). As a visionary, Nehemiah put his finger on the pulse of the people and offered them a purpose to rebuild. Nehemiah tied two things together: 1) the hand of God was involved in the action of rebuilding and, 2) rebuilding would put a stop to the reproach they were living under. Instantly, due to a visionary that articulated a clear purpose, the people declared, “Let us rise up and build” (vs. 18).
In both instances of Moses and Nehemiah, vision grabbed the hearts of the people and stimulated internal desire which motivated them to action. They saw the extreme benefit of what the visionary was asking and, in turn, they were willing to give their time, treasure, and talent. Vision must have a visionary! It must have one that can articulate the possibilities of things caught at the heights of spiritual mountains. One that can unify, motivate, and inspire a group of people to invest in grand designs of spiritual origin! This is the first element vision must have; a visionary.
Cord #2: Vision Crafters
It is important to understand that a visionary leader is only as good as the team that assists in developing the vision. For a church, this is true among the departmental heads and figures of the church. God understood the dynamics of having men who could articulate the Divine blueprint by means of anointed craftsmanship. It was one thing to give Moses the design, but another to raise up men who could bring about the abstract vision into the present world of concrete reality. Bezaleel and Aholiab were such men. They were men that God filled with the “spirit of God, in wisdom, and in understanding, and in knowledge, and in all manner of workmanship” (Exodus 3:3). They were given insight and spiritual direction to “devise cunning works, to work in gold, and in silver, and in brass, and in the cutting of stones, to set them, and in carving of timber, to work in all manner of workmanship…. that they may make all that I have commanded thee.” (vs. 4-5).
The word “make,” (vs.5) means to “fashion, shape, or squeeze.” It is a creative word (cf. Genesis 1:26; 2:18) that implies the action of bringing “thought” into tangible existence. Just as God fashioned man according to His own image so these men would fashion a Tabernacle after the pattern God had delivered to Moses. Every visionary must have spiritual, key-figures, that are anointed with wisdom, understanding, and knowledge to devise “cunning works.”
The Hebrew word for “cunning works” is used 56 times in the Old Testament, primarily as a word that connects to the idea of “thought.” Ultimately, when used in the context of fabrication, it signaled the ability of the workman to fabricate from imagination. Steven Covey once wrote that “all things are created twice.” First, there is the mental creation; the mental blueprint of design. Second, there is the physical creation where the mental becomes the physical. Moses had men, led by the Spirit of God, that could bring the vision from mental thought to concrete reality.
A visionary must have men and women that are plugged into the spiritual current of Divine vision. Nothing can replace God-anointed individuals who support and establish the visions cast by a visionary. Nothing can replace men and women who, down to the smallest detail, fabricate the Divine purposes of God within a local assembly. This is one of the most crucial ministries in a church today. A visionary must have individuals that he can trust to get the job done without strife, deviation from the specifics of the blueprint, or personal ambitions of glory. I have preached across the nation that we need a revival of vision-crafters! We need men and women that will get into a place of prayer and “anticipate” the direction of the visionary! A visionary must have vision-crafters!
Cord #3: The Congregation
This leads us to the third, and often overlooked, element of vision development; the congregation. A visionary that casts vision and vision-crafters that bring vision into concrete reality are impotent without the congregation! Often times, when consulting the commandments of the Tabernacle, we fail to realize the importance of congregational support! Moses cast the vision and vision-crafters were present among the people to build, but the congregation was needed to provide the materials to bring the Divine blueprint into reality!
However, the congregation needs to understand their crucial, needed place within the threefold cord of development! Nothing arrests development more than a disconnected congregation! When God set about to implement the construction of the Tabernacle, He recognized that the foundation of success rested on congregational support! The materials that the vision-crafters would need to design the pattern cast by the visionary was in the hands of the congregation! This is how God develops vision! However, and this is crucial, purpose always comes with provision! Let me explain.
When God asked the Israelites for the materials to build the Tabernacle, He wasn’t asking for what He hadn’t already provided them. Where did the Israelites get the gold, silver, and materials? In fact, where did they get so much of the materials that Moses had to turn away their offerings? The answer is found in Egypt.
Exodus 3:21-22 (KJV) 21 And I will give this people favour in the sight of the Egyptians: and it shall come to pass, that, when ye go, ye shall not go empty: 22 But every woman shall borrow of her neighbour, and of her that sojourneth in her house, jewels of silver, and jewels of gold, and raiment: and ye shall put them upon your sons, and upon your daughters; and ye shall spoil the Egyptians.
When you begin to trace out the materials given to support the building of the Tabernacle you come to realize that God had made provision for every facet of the design. In fact, God had ensured that everyone would have something to give toward the building of the Tabernacle. The men, as Scripture reveals, above a certain age, gave a half-shekel of silver for ransom. That combined half-shekel of ransom served to cast the foundation sockets of the Tabernacle. The women and children, well they carried on themselves the gold, silver, jewels, and raiment they had taken from Egypt.
However, all provision comes with assignment. God provided but He had an intended purpose for the provision! Sadly, when you look at the events of the Golden Calf, God’s provision was assigned to a purpose that God had not designed. The golden earrings in the ears of the women, sons, and daughters, was broken off and cast into the forge of idolatry. Anything that is used outside and apart from intended purpose is called abuse!
The vision-crafters were assigned talents and abilities for the intended purpose of building the Tabernacle. The congregation was given provision for the intended purpose of supplying the materials the vision-crafters needed to build the Tabernacle. I have taught this concept throughout my travels and the one question I have asked is, “how many Golden Calves are we building?” In other words, are we being stewards of God’s provision and using provision as God intends? After receiving a monetary blessing, a job with more free time, or a myriad of other blessings, when is the last time we got down in prayer and asked God, “is there an intended purpose for these blessings?” In other words, maybe these blessings aren’t strictly for my own pleasure or enjoyment. Perhaps you are giving me more time to accomplish something you need done at the church? Perhaps you blessed me with this substantial bonus because you need me to help towards buying a church van?
I have said many times, and I will say it again: “God has the cattle on a thousand hills but He often asks me for my cow!” Why? The economy of God, within the threefold cord of development, involves an active participation of every member within! The visionary, the vision-crafters, and the congregation must act as a unified unit! If these three things can operate according to their intended purpose and the time, treasure, and talents God has provided are appropriately assigned then you have the resulting visitation of God’s manifested glory. As Moses stepped out of the door of the Tabernacle, built by the vision-crafters, and provided for by the congregation the glory of God fell. The threefold cord of development effectively moved God from the mountain and into the middle.
Timothy Hadden, happily married and the father of three young children, has spent the last six years traveling extensively, both in the United States and Internationally, as a sought after Apostolic evangelist. Many of his revivals, often spanning several months, focused on creating a spiritual environment that promoted a deep move of God thus enabling a spirit of revelation that further developed existing local ministries and empowered local church congregations to a greater dimension of Apostolic understanding and authority. The effects of these revivals are still being witnessed throughout many church congregations nationwide. Recently, having felt the call of God to leave the evangelistic field, he and his family have relocated to the Portland Oregon Metropolis where they are developing a church plant called Antioch Northwest. Already, less than two months on site, they are seeing unprecedented signs and miracles in one of the least churched cities in the Northwest. Currently, if he is not teaching Bible Studies, canvassing his city, investing in his family, or working on the demanding schedule of a church-planter, he is writing several books that he hopes to publish in the not-so-distant future. You can find more of his writings www.searchofkings.net or, for more information on the church-plant, visit www.antiochnorthwest.com.
Let me make a few disclaimers right from the beginning. First, not all big churches are healthy and not all small churches are unhealthy. Big churches are not necessarily better than small churches and the reverse is also true. However, if the body is not growing it is dying. This is true spiritually and physically. That’s not to say setbacks, sicknesses, and dry seasons won’t temporarily stunt growth, but the key word there is “temporarily”. Long-term stagnation or decline is a sure sign of an impending downward spiral if something drastic doesn’t take place to fix the problem.
I grew up in a small church plant that my father started in 1983 (the year of my birth), and I grew up alongside the growth of that church. Churches must grow into maturity just as a child grows into maturity. If a mother church grows strong she will give birth to daughter churches that will repeat the process over and over again.
The number one reason small churches stay small is that they want to stay small. This reality is often hidden stealthily beneath the surface making it difficult to spot. But if you watch carefully you’ll see it manifested in dozens of little ways. They literally have no desire to grow. Again, I love small churches, but small churches are in direct violation of the Great Commission (Matthew 28:16-20) if they have no desire to see new souls added to the church. And if a church doesn’t want to grow it will not grow.
One final clarification, 99.9% of the time the pastor desperately wants the church he oversees to grow. The lack of desire for growth typically comes from the congregation, not the clergy. In best case scenarios, the church (or an influential portion of the church) is simply complacent towards the churches growth. In worst case scenarios, the church (or an influential portion of the church) actively tries to hinder the churches growth. Regardless, this is a problem that must be addressed head on or it will choke the life out of a small congregation. Here are nine contributing reasons that small churches often don’t want to grow.
The church simply doesn’t want to suffer through a building program. This usually stems from either a faith problem or a stinginess problem. Sometimes well-meaning church members confuse good stewardship with stagnation. A small building that’s been paid off for 20 years is a wonderful thing, but if you can’t continue to grow in that building (or the location hinders growth), it’s time to take the necessary leap of faith. For other less sincere saints, they simply don’t want to commit financially to the vision of revival (think Ananias & Sapphira).
The church has lost sight of its purpose. Many churches gradually forget the urgency of the hour. They become content with their own salvation and forget that Hell is still a reality for their community. They forget that God has placed them within that community to reach the lost. It doesn’t matter how many missionary plaques you hang on the wall if you aren’t being a missionary to your own region. I often hear people say, “some give by going, and some go by giving.” I know what they mean, but it gives the impression that only certain elite people are called to reach the lost. Wherever you are right now, that’s your mission field. Far too often we allow our giving to replace going into our own harvest field.
The church has lost its love for people. Many times, it is that simple. Bitterness, pride, harshness, and unresolved anger can rip the love of Christ right out of the hearts of a congregation. At its peak, it results in a harshness so severe that it rejoices rather than weeps at the lost condition of “reprobates” and “sinners”. Hell, is a reality that should move us to tears, not cheers.
Spiritual lethargy, exhaustion, and laziness. I understand that revival and evangelism are just plain hard work; emotionally, spiritually, and physically. People who have participated for many years in the process can easily grow weary in well doing (check out my writings on this subject here and here). Some folks are just lazy by nature and this bleeds into their spiritual life as well. Revival and laziness are like oil and water; they just don’t mix.
Institutional racism or a clique mentality. I’m truly afraid that the church is still one of the most segregated places in America (click here for a related article). But God has called the church to be multicultural and accepting of all races, ethnicities, backgrounds, and cultures. Some congregations want revival only if all the new people look and sound just like them. Yikes, that’s a big problem. I’m just glad the apostle Peter allowed God to change his heart so a Gentile like me could be a part of the Body of Christ.
Rampant carnality and materialism. When a church grows carnal they just don’t have room for spiritual concerns. They’re too busy with sports and movies to care if their neighbor is going to Heaven or Hell. Financial blessings are a wonderful gift from God, but we should never squander that gift on trivial things that constantly distract us from the Kingdom of God. Churches fraught with carnality and materialism would rather talk about anything other than spiritual things. They don’t have time to be inconvenienced with revival, and they do the absolute minimum they can do for God (check out this article entitled You Might Be a Carnal Christian If…).
The church doesn’t want to lose constant or immediate access to the pastor. This one is very common and even understandable to a certain degree. Saints instinctively know that as a church grows it will become harder and harder to gain immediate access to the pastor for counseling or anything else for that matter. In many ways, it’s like an only child who resents the idea of a baby brother or a baby sister. They grow jealous of the attention that their parents must devote to their new sibling. This is understandable but only to a point, if it turns into outright aggression towards new babies in the Lord it must be dealt with lovingly but firmly.
A certain element within the church desperately wants to maintain power, position, and influence. Ah, this is a big one. It’s very insidious, extremely dangerous, and usually carefully disguised. It can be anything from worship leaders and singers who feel threatened by new people who are talented or lay ministers who feel threatened by young babes in the Lord who feel called to preach. It can be anyone who feels like their position might be threatened by an influx of new people. It can be a wealthy saint who enjoys being perceived as the wealthiest saint in the church, or a talented musician who enjoys being perceived as the most talented person in the church, or board members that want to keep their authority consolidated. It can even extend to the entire congregation and their desire to keep a strong influence over every aspect of the church, therefore, they perceive new people as a threat to that power. This is almost never articulated out loud but the signs are there if you are paying attention.
The congregation has an institutional bias against the culture of growing churches. Some people are just conditioned either by their upbringing or their preconceived ideas of how a church should be to dislike large churches. In extreme cases, people like this consider big churches evil, but they’ll usually use code words like “full of compromise” or something of that nature. The reality is that small churches and big churches alike can fall into the trap of compromise. Some people fear that large churches are incapable of being friendly or warm. The reality is that small churches and large churches can fall into the trap of being unfriendly and cold. A church shouldn’t desire to grow just to be large, but it should want to be large because it wants everyone to be saved.
Final caveats: I realize there are other reasons small churches stay small. Local economies, transient locals, spiritual onslaughts, poor leadership, tragedy, rapid leadership turnover, seasons of sowing, difficult locations, and more can all be relevant factors. Also, churches go through seasons and holding patterns that are temporary conditions. I am talking about chronic conditions. However, it would be unwise to casually ignore these points without at least considering the very real possibility that one or more of these problems could be at work.
What is vision and how does one define such an abstract concept? Vision can speak of physical sight, divine premonitions, dreams, or abstract ideas and thoughts. Therefore, vision as a word can vacillate dependent upon its context and, for each user, can mean something completely different. For many, vision is merely a projected goal that serves to motivate either self or others. However, in the context of religious leadership, vision is often a dynamic projection of a seemingly unattainable possibility that challenges the status-quo.
Vision for the true spiritual leader, unlike the secular, is both horizontal and vertical. To best explain this, think of a ladder whose bottom feet are set upon the earth (horizontal) and whose top reach into the heavens (vertical). This best encapsulates vision as relates to the spiritual leader. Therefore, the success of the religious leader (the visionary) is the ability to connect the vertical to the horizontal. Think of vision as a seed. If vision is not cast into the soil of earthy ground, it can never take root and develop. Vision, by itself, is an unplanted seed whose germination depends upon its being sown in the fields of the horizontal. However, casting the seed of vertical vision into horizontal fields merely engages the process of germination. This is just the beginning.
Consider the human body. First, everything begins with conception and, from that point forward, the developmental stages of growth begin to occur. Vision is no different. First, vision must be conceived, yet too often, this is where failure occurs within the visionary process. Improper development of vision results in visionary stillbirth. Because of this, vision often remains static and results in an unchanging environment that returns to repeat an infinite cycle. Sadly, too many men desiring to act as visionaries do nothing more than proclaim the conception of vision as the actual breakthrough. Did breakthrough occur? No! To better illustrate this, there is a vast difference between promising technology and breakthrough technology. The former speaks of the potential of something in the future whereas the latter speaks of the actual realization of here and now results. Promising vision is a long way from the realization of vision but there is a bridge between the two called development.
When a child is conceived in the womb of the mother, conception is the initial stage and everything from that point forward leads toward the eventual breakthrough of a healthy child. The bridge between conception and breakthrough is development. The pregnancy itself is laborious, painful, and uncomfortable. Everything about the pregnancy and the anticipation of breakthrough demands changes in almost every area fathomable. However, and this is crucial, breakthrough (birth) doesn’t end the narrative of development! Breakthrough is the beginning! Vision is no different!
Herein, in regards to vision, too many would excitedly pump their fists in the air and declare, “It’s happened!” The relief, after all those long weeks and months carrying around the weight of a developing vision, can become a lulling siren of complacency. Too many churches are stumbling over the headstones of infantile visions because they didn’t realize the work was just beginning. Let me make a statement, loud and clear: the devil has adopted way too many spiritual newborns that were left in the field due to the negligence of a mother (Ezekiel 16:4-5).
Newly birthed vision is exciting! It’s exciting to look around and see, touch, and partake in the labor of bringing the vision to realization. However, at this point, one should expect less sleep, less vacations, and less hobbies. The first moment that newly birthed vision is held in the arms of tangible realization the mindset of the church must go into a mother’s protective process. Ears must become attuned to the myriad of cries and eyes must watch for subtle signs of sickness or abnormalities that may arise. Call the visionary breakthrough revival, harvest, or a myriad of other religious pseudonyms; but I call it the beginning! Talk about having another baby (vision) only after you have secured the process of maturation in the current baby (vision)! Don’t develop malnourished visions!
Resources must be in place to ensure the proper development of the vision. This is why, all too often, long before the birth of a vision we put the proverbial cart before the horse! Many times, latching on to an Old Testament principle, we “build the extra room” but exhaust our resources so that we come up lacking the necessary staples of infancy development! A large room with a comfortable bed means nothing to a starving baby! Secure the horse before you buy the cart!
The strength of developing vision lies in its singularity. It is impossible to find a needle in a haystack…or is it? What if one were to take a very large magnet and place it alongside the haystack? Exactly! A concentrated, singular force would draw upon that needle, once deemed unfindable, and bring it to the surface!
This is why, when one gives birth to vision, peripheral issues seem to arise. The enemy recognizes that singular, committed focus on newly birthed vision is crucial! If the enemy can implement anything in our peripheral to break our alignment, he will succeed in potentially killing, stealing, or destroying what we have fought so hard to bring to breakthrough!
“No man”, Jesus declared, “having put his hand to the plough and looking back, is fit for the kingdom of God!” In other words, don’t start the process without dedicating all of your time, treasure, and talent to the entireprocess! Consider what Jesus was saying! Those that aren’t committed to the entire process to ensure maximum development are not fit for the kingdom. Although the word in the Greek carries the connotation of not being “useful or prepared for” it literally means, “well-placed.” In other words, the man that doesn’t commit to the process of development with a singular, undivided focus is “out-of-place”! God doesn’t cut crooked paths, he straightens them!
Nothing stands out in Scripture more poignantly in regards to undeveloped vision than the condition of the house of God that Hosea confronted. “Is it time for you, O ye, to dwell in your ceiled houses, and this house lie waste? …. Consider your ways! Ye have sown much, and bring in little; ye eat, but ye have not enough; ye drink, but ye are not filled with drink, ye clothe you, but there is none warm; and he that earneth wages earneth wages to put it into a bag with holes.”
Note from Author
This concludes, in part, a greater portion of a larger treatise. Part two, which will serve as the conclusion of the matter, will deal with the three key things every church must have in order for vision to reach maturation. These three elements have served to turn the tide in many churches across the nation. In fact, if found in a local church, these three elements cannot lead to anything but success.
Timothy Hadden, happily married and the father of three young children, has spent the last six years traveling extensively, both in the United States and Internationally, as a sought after Apostolic evangelist. Many of his revivals, often spanning several months, focused on creating a spiritual environment that promoted a deep move of God thus enabling a spirit of revelation that further developed existing local ministries and empowered local church congregations to a greater dimension of Apostolic understanding and authority. The effects of these revivals are still being witnessed throughout many church congregations nationwide. Recently, having felt the call of God to leave the evangelistic field, he and his family have relocated to the Portland Oregon Metropolis where they are developing a church plant called Antioch Northwest. Already, less than two months on site, they are seeing unprecedented signs and miracles in one of the least churched cities in the Northwest. Currently, if he is not teaching Bible Studies, canvassing his city, investing in his family, or working on the demanding schedule of a church-planter, he is writing several books that he hopes to publish in the not-so-distant future. You can find more of his writings www.searchofkings.net or, for more information on the church-plant, visit www.antiochnorthwest.com.
Debunking False Doctrines will be a reoccuring theme where we address well-known and widely-believed dangerous theologies.
There are few false doctrines more dangerous than the Calvinistic assertion of “eternal security” or “once saved, always saved.” This belief has become pervasive far beyond the reaches of theological academia and “once saved, always saved” is a popular mantra for the average “low information” Christian. It crosses denominational lines, bleeds between theological spectrums, and slips into everyday dogmas.
The doctrine of eternal security essentially states that once a person is saved nothing can cause them to be disfellowshipped from God. Without going too deep, it should be noted that there are numerous variations and machinations of this doctrine. In its most extreme form, a person could theoretically be saved and go on to murder his wife while remaining “unconditionally” saved. Others would assert that if someone were to commit such a heinous act he was never “truly” saved in the first place.
Sadly, this perilous doctrine flatly contradicts Scripture and it is commonly used as a smokescreen to justify sinful lifestyles. In other words, “once saved, always saved” appeals to the most carnal leanings of our humanity. It gives false legitimacy for sin, false comfort to sinners, and builds a pseudo-biblical barrier between countless sinners and repentance.
It’s eerie how the Calvinistic notion of eternal security shares similarities with Satan’s seduction of Eve in the garden of Eden. The serpent assured Eve, “…Ye shall not surely die (Genesis 3:4).” The satanic implication being that Eve could live in disobedience without fear of Divine consequences. The doctrine of eternal security makes the same false claim and it originates from the same satanic source.
Here’s the primary passage of Scripture used to prop up the concept of O.S.A.S., “35Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword?36As it is written, For thy sake we are killed all the day long; we are accounted as sheep for the slaughter.37Nay, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him that loved us.38For I am persuaded, that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor powers, nor things present, nor things to come,39Nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature, shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord (Romans 8:35-39).”
First of all, this is a tremendously encouraging passage of Scripture, but it’s talking about God’s unconditional love, not unconditional salvation. With close examination, you’ll find that sin is not once mentioned in the context of this promise. As with other passages used to support O.S.A.S. (John 3:15, John 5:24, John 10:28, Romans 8:1, 1 Corinthians 10:13), the emphasis is always on external forces having no authority over your personal responsibilities towards God.
Let’s put it this way, nothing can force you to separate yourself from God except you. Satan can’t make you do it any more than he made Eve do it. Eve exercised her free will. Adam exercised his free will. And they both suffered the consequences of their actions. Furthermore, sin separates us from a right relationship with God but it does not remove us from the love of God. For example, “…God commendeth his love toward us, in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us (Romans 5:8).” Clearly, God loves us even while we are in sin, but to say that the cross made sin acceptable is to completely undermine the necessity of the cross in the first place. The phrasing “while we were yet sinners” shows Paul’s assumption that believers would naturally understand sinful lifestyles must be discarded after salvation. Furthermore, the apostle Peter calls us to follow in the footsteps of Jesus “Who did no sin (1 Peter 2:21-22).” A few verses down he underscores that Jesus “bare our sins in his own body on the tree, that we, being dead to sins, should live unto righteousness…For ye were as sheep going astray; but are now returned unto the Shepherd and Bishop of your souls (1 Peter 2:24-25).”
But we still haven’t sufficiently debunked the doctrine of eternal security. Few people would argue against the Scriptural emphasis on living above sin. Many would argue that righteous living is the best way but not a requirement for Heaven after obedience to the Gospel. So let’s take a look at several Scriptures that prove that it is possible to throw away our own salvation and trample upon the grace of God.
The parable of the sower gives us insight into the issue at hand. Jesus speaks of individuals who receive the Gospel immediately with joy but when affliction or persecution arises because of the Word they fall away (Mark 4:16, Luke 8:13).
Consider these self-explanatory Scriptures from the book of Hebrews:
“For it is impossible for those who were once enlightened, and have tasted of the heavenly gift, and were made partakers of the Holy Ghost, And have tasted the good word of God, and the powers of the world to come, If they shall fall away, to renew them again unto repentance; seeing they crucify to themselves the Son of God afresh, and put him to an open shame (Hebrews 6:4-6).”
“For if we sin wilfully after that we have received the knowledge of the truth, there remaineth no more sacrifice for sins, But a certain fearful looking for of judgment and fiery indignation, which shall devour the adversaries (Hebrews 10:26-27).”
“Now the just shall live by faith: but if any man draw back, my soul shall have no pleasure in him. But we are not of them who draw back unto perdition(destruction); but of them that believe to the saving of the soul (Hebrews 10:38-39).”
Additionally, Peter speaks plainly of people who return and are “overcome” by the “pollutions of the world” stating that it would be better if they had never known the “way of righteousness” in the first place (2 Peter 2:20-22). But the words of Jesus are the most potent, “Not everyone that saith unto me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven; but he that doeth the will of my Father which is in heaven. Many will say to me in that day, Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in thy name? and in thy name have cast out devils? and in thy name done many wonderful works? And then will I profess unto them, I never knew you: depart from me, ye that work iniquity(Matthew 7:21-23).”
We could go on and on demonstrating the Scriptural imperative that we must not depart from the faith post-salvation or risk Divine judgment. I’ll leave you with a list of Scriptures that demonstrate that saved individuals must continue to “work out… salvation with fear and trembling (Philippians 2:12).”
Children of God Can:
“Fall from grace” – Galatians 5:1-4,13
“Be led away with error” – 2 Peter 3:17
“Err from the truth” – James 5:19-20
“Weak brother may perish” – 1 Corinthians 8:11
“Fall into condemnation” – James 5:12
“Be moved away from the hope” – Colossians 1:21-23
Today, I awoke in a frustrated state, as my dogs raised the alarm. Their urgent barks were interrupted momentarily by low guttural growls as they raced from window to door in agitation. The guard dogs were on the prowl, warning of imminent danger; or were they? Many argue a guard dog is the best alarm, money can buy, but I’m not so sure I agree.
You see, once I awoke enough to wipe the sleep from my eyes, I knew in my heart there was no true threat. I had seen it too many times, in mere seconds they would transform from frothing beasts to their normal sweet, amiable selves, clamoring for a belly rub. Dogs are unable to differentiate between a real threat (a thief) and the “evil” mail carrier. I have watched my own dogs sleep through a knock at the door, softly twitching their paws content in their dream state, just to attempt a death-defying leap through a glass window to defend the household from the “danger” imposed by the garbage truck. No matter, how we try to sugar-coat it, the reality remains, all dogs are in truth dumb, regardless of the tricks they know or their loyalty to their human family.
In today’s society, many have reduced themselves to nothing more than guard dogs. Some, like a dumb, lazy dog choose to sleep, unconcerned with the effects of today’s decisions on future generations. The pressure of political correctness has stifled free speech, sensitivity to “micro-aggressions” has overridden wisdom, demands for “trigger warnings” have made people fearful of open debate, and a political platform has displaced logic. Although, many champion an era of “new tolerance”, the current climate has, in fact, created one of the most philosophically intolerant time periods in human history. This intolerance automatically labels all truth claims as suspect and few are willing to take a counter-cultural stance. People willingly sacrifice the power of their voice, the essence of their humanity, and their spirituality for a comfortable, blissful sleep. While a moral revolution takes place, many bury their head in the sand and remain unmoved. They choose to navigate without a compass, set adrift, anchorless on the changing winds of popular opinion. The temptation to deny reality and cling to the mirage of a utopian dream beckons and those who surrender to its siren cry welcome the sleep of spiritual death.
Others epitomize the aggressive, guard dog on the prowl. They demand individuality at the expense of truth and are obsessed with the concept of non-conformity. Many ardently state their disillusionment with everything considered “too mainstream” and choose to draw lines of demarcation. This is most evident in the various ways our culture self-identifies across socio-economic, racial, ethnic, educational, philosophical, religious, sexual, and gender lines. Their attempts at originality are articulated via mass-produced bumper stickers, copy-cat tattoos, branded clothing, political flags, and mass-produced entertainment. The cries of this generation are unmistakable as they fight to protect the territory they’ve arbitrarily defined. Their area of marked defense is ever changing, shrinking and expanding as individual emotions shift, trends change, and public opinion polls swing. The guard dog mentality has created a self-absorbed culture of violence and discord, which has fractured society beyond human repair. After all, a “good” guard dog doesn’t sleep through a time of revolution, but stands, prepared to rip out the throat of anyone who crosses into its territory, whether friend or foe.
Though the church is immersed in this extreme culture, it is imperative, both ministers and saints recognize we cannot slumber and we cannot rage. There is simply too much at stake for God’s people to follow the lead of society. We cannot afford to simply “wing-it” and hope for the best. Our response must be determined, deliberate, and decisive. We are hopeless if we merely reflect the failed guard dog mentality of culture.
In the Old Testament, the prophet Isaiah, speaks of those God commissioned as watchmen. However, he does not commend them for a job well-done; in fact, he rebukes them as nothing more than “dumb dogs”. He indicts them as “blind” and “ignorant”. He suggests they value the comfort of sleep more than the safety of God’s people. (Isa. 56:10). When the Christian feels overwhelmed by the obstacles and wickedness of this world, slumber is a very real temptation. It is easy to ignore the signs of the times and the monumental shifts in culture. Often we see this evidenced in the following ways:
Churches and saints who still operate according to a nineteen-fifties approach to ministry and daily living. They continue with business as usual and fight to maintain a cocoon of protection from all secular influence. They placidly sleep while the enemy prowls. Their unwillingness to acknowledge the effects of the post-modern worldview creates an entire generation unprepared to face the challenges and obstacles of the twenty-first century.
Others embrace a neutral, permissive attitude in the name of love and tolerance. The assumption that compassion and a good example alone are enough to change hearts and lives, robs the church of any true growth. Dynamic oratory skills are not a replacement for solid Biblical teaching! When the priority is to avoid offense and confrontation, nothing is established as a moral or doctrinal absolute. Individuals abandon growth and embrace spiritual stagnation. Some even limit the spiritual development of children and new converts to prevent them from offending, by virtue of their walk.
However, simply closing our eyes to everything unpleasant does not lessen the impact society has on the minister, the church, or its saints. While we refuse to acknowledge the enemies’ approach, a generation is slaughtered mercilessly. The church must rise to the demands of the times to do anything less is sin. (Ja. 4:17) Furthermore, sleep is surrender and surrender is not an option!
The alternative is just as destructive. God forbid, the body of Christ adopts the same dog-eat-dog mentality modern society has perfected. The church confronted with the vehemence of culture cannot stoop to society’s methods of communication and unabashed, self-preservation. God never called His people to an attack dog mentality or a pit bull ministry. Doctrine and holiness is not the church’s squeaky toy to protect by tooth and claw. Truth should never be defended based on an intellectual decision or principle alone. The church functions at its best and doctrine is most effectively articulated when His people are sincerely in love with God and His Word.
Though secular society lives in the muddied waters of moral ambiguity, reliant on emotions alone to define their understanding, the church does not have to do the same. Thankfully, Scripture provides a lifeline! In fact, I would argue, God’s word speaks directly to our current situation. There is no excuse for a morally ambivalent church, just as there is no defense for a saint that doesn’t represent the Savior in word and deed. We must exemplify true Biblical Christianity in the way we live, minister, and lead. Our passion and love for the Creator is demonstrated through a loving, but honest approach to the sins of this world. So, in the midst of the extremes of a guard dog culture, God demands the church look to the timeless words of Scripture.
First and foremost, we must learn what it truly means to be the church of the Living God. It is not merely a title we wear emblazoned on our shirts or a placard we hang behind the pulpit. The early church didn’t accidentally turn “the world upside down.” (Acts 17:6) Their level of effectiveness in evangelism was a direct result of the depth of their relationship. They didn’t reflect the world, but rather the God they served. Non-conformity is an illusion. Ultimately, how we spend our time and energy, where we set our affections, and what entertains us will define us. The choice is ours; will we conform to the broken, self-destructive worldview of the guard dog or the liberating image of our Creator and Redeemer? (Jn. 8:32; Ja. 1:23-25; Ro. 12:2) It is impossible for us, to know the mind and heart of God if we refuse to spend time getting to know Him through prayer, fasting and His word. When we learn to fully trust God He will shape and define us, so our character will mirror His. Philippians, chapter two explains that God, Himself “took upon him the form of a servant” (Ph. 2:6-11). In the face of such great condescension, we must not be offended when He asks us to humble ourselves for His service. After all, we must realize, before He called us to be saints or ministers; He called us to be His followers and servants and that call doesn’t change. The temptation to embrace an extreme mentality fades as we turn our eyes away from our own desires and the distractions of this life and focus our hearts and minds on Him alone.
Secondly, we must learn the power of obedience. The guard dog is often difficult to control growling and snapping without regard for its master’s command. But, Scripture tells us “obedience is better than sacrifice.” (I Sa. 15:22). Sacrifice is required for the overcoming, Christian. However, our sacrifices are meaningless, unless they are accompanied by a willingness to obey the One we claim to worship. When we are in love with God, submitted to Him, and growing in our relationship with Him; obedience is a natural response. Holiness and right living, no longer feel like an imposition, because His spirit compels us to demonstrate our commitment to Him with our lives. In essence, we learn to walk in the spirit. (Ga. 5:16) If we hope to be God’s instruments for revival, we must learn to obey Him. He isn’t looking for an aggressive church straining at the leash and foaming at the mouth. His heart desires men and women, willing to submit to Him in obedience and allow Him to order their steps.
The Bible is clear. When we recognize who God is, we are faced with the reality of our own inadequacies and must choose how to respond. John 9:38-40 gives us a perfect example of this concept in action. Jesus didn’t heal the spiritually blind of the Pharisees, because they refused to admit their weakness and continually claimed to see. The revelation of His infinite wisdom and omniscience, demands we willingly acknowledge the limitations of our own finite human understanding. The sooner we admit our human intellect is powerless in the face of pain and spiritual brokenness, the sooner we can communicate, in His strength to a world in need. There is no excuse for an ignorant church or saint and despite the claims of some, ignorance is never bliss! We need His wisdom and discernment. God knows the height and depth of our knowledge, it’s impossible for us to pull the wool over His eyes. This is why He promises that if we ask in faith for wisdom, He won’t chastise us, but will empower us. (Ja. 1:5-6) The wisdom that comes from above has the power to move us beyond complacency and emotionally charged responses. When we surrender our understanding at the feet of the all-knowing One, He enables us in the following ways:
a. To identify the enemy – There are true enemies and we mustn’t spend time attacking the proverbial windmill (ala Don Quixote) or fighting the wind (I Co. 9:26). We have to know who and what we fight against. Paul tells us in Ephesians 6:12, that our battle isn’t physical, but spiritual. Furthermore, he states “…the weapons of our warfare are not carnal, but mighty in God…” (II Co. 10:4-5) A spiritual battle requires a spiritual approach. When the disciples failed in healing a demon possessed child, Jesus told them “…this kind goeth not out but by prayer and fasting.” (Mt. 17:14-21). We must be sober, vigilant, and culturally informed. But, without prayerful surrender and putting “…on the whole armour of God…” we face the reality of defeat. (Eph. 6:10-18) His discernment grants us the ability to focus our time and energy in the right direction. Instead, of battling perceived enemies, we can preach timeless Apostolic truth, strike at the heart of the enemy, and teach our generation how to apply the principles of Scripture to their lives.
b. To distinguish the lines of battle – The war for the hearts and minds of an entire generation is ongoing and the fences we construct, should with each post hole dug mark the field of battle. Ultimately, if the sheepfold we build is too small, the sheep will feel trapped and fight to escape, but if it’s too large, the enemy can creep in unaware. The sheep’s safety is determined by their nearness to the shepherd and the shepherd protects the sheep by staying close to the Great Shepherd. Therefore, our positions on matters of morality, entertainment and holiness must not be based on an emotional response or an intellectual analysis. We must resist the urge for a knee jerk reaction to anything new or foreign but must rely on His wisdom to teach us where to draw the lines of battle, when to fight, and how to protect God’s people. (Jn. 10:1-18)
c. To sound the alarm – If we act within our own wisdom and sound the alarm without cause, we are no better than the little boy who cried wolf. We sacrifice the power of our witness, when we simply attack everything we don’t understand. But, when we submit to His wisdom our message will ring with prophetic timeliness and resound with the voice of eternity. The collective sound of the church will echo with the clarity of a trumpet, warning of danger and beckoning sinners to a place of repentance and refuge.
Although, at times the devices of the enemy may seem overwhelming, God does not excuse us from our responsibility to Him. Instead, He fully equips His people through initiating a relationship with us, teaching us the power of obedience, and imparting His wisdom. He gives us the power to not only endure times of change and unrest, but to thrive! The Apostle Peter defined us not as guard dogs, but as “…a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, an holy nation, a peculiar people…” So, it’s time we abandon slumber and rage and “…shew forth the praises…” of the One who called us “…out of darkness into his marvellous light;” (I Pt. 2:9)
Jennifer Mast is a graduate of Indiana Bible College and has worked full-time at IBC, since 2004, serving in various capacities. Currently, she is the registrar, as well as an instructor for the Biblical Studies Department. She teaches a number of courses including; Gospel of John, General Epistles, New Testament Greek, and Biblical Hebrew. In addition, she holds ministerial license with the United Pentecostal Church. She is a passionate preacher and teacher and has a burden to communicate His word to the world.
It’s no secret that our country is in a tremendous state of turmoil. America is in religious, political, economic, and moral upheaval. We seem more divided than ever by class, creed, color, and culture. This ought not to be so, but ignoring reality is not an option. Let’s narrow down that massive list of generalities to the subject of the escalating racial tensions that have dominated the news over the past few weeks.
First, all racism is rooted in hatred and hatred is a sin. John didn’t pull any punches when he said, “If a man say, I love God, and hateth his brother, he is a liar: for he that loveth not his brother whom he hath seen, how can he love God whom he hath not seen? And this commandment have we from him, That he who loveth God love his brother also (1 John 19:20-21).”
You cannot claim to love God and hate others at the same time. In another place, John equates the sin of hatred with the sin of murder (1 John 3:14-15). If you study the Bible and human nature you will quickly find that hatred and murder are just a few short steps apart from one another. Christians of all races absolutely must resist the pressure to be subdued by racism or hatred of any kind.
Satan knows that a house divided against itself cannot stand (Mark 3:25). He works feverishly to divide and conquer. The Church must recognize and rebuke Satan’s handy work wherever hatred manifested as racism raises its murderous head.
We should also know that this proliferation of racial division is a clear indication of the soon coming of the Lord. While speaking about the end of time, Jesus said in Mark 13:8, “…nation shall rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom”. Recently, my friend Reverend Victor Jackson articulated that the word nation mentioned here finds it’s root in the Greek word meaning race. Therefore, it is accurate to say that in the last days, races will rise up against races and kingdoms will rise up against kingdoms. The Church recognizes that this is the spirit of the antichrist at work. If the Church allows the spirit of division (a spirit that is antithetical to the Holy Spirit) into its ranks it will cease to be the Church.
I believe that racial injustice is more prevalent than many want to acknowledge, and less than some who peddle division would lead us to believe. The Church must stand against injustice for people of every color, race, and creed (Proverbs 21:15, Isaiah 1:17, Proverbs 24:24-25, Psalm 106:3, Proverbs 21:3, Deuteronomy 10:18, Deuteronomy 27:19). The Bible intertwines the unfailing love of God with justice (Psalm 33:5). In other words, love and justice are closely connected attributes of God. If we are reflectors of God’s image then we must love people and love justice.
Jesus took it a step further by commanding us to love our enemies (Matthew 5:44). This might not be very compelling had Jesus not obeyed his own command by forgiving the very people who put him on the cross (Luke 23:34).
As racial tensions hang over our nation like storm clouds we must remember one key Scripture: For we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places (Ephesians 6:12).
And so, as the Church stands against injustice, racism from every direction, hatred, violence, and class warfare we must be ever mindful that the battle will be won with spiritual weapons. Bullets are not the answer. Hatred and violence only instigate more hatred and violence. The words of Dr. Martin Luther King are more relevant today than ever before:
Love is the only force capable of transforming an enemy into a friend.
It is imperative that the Church models to this world what racial unity looks like in word and deed. We must stand in solidarity against violence and hatred. For the record, I believe that the vast majority of police officers do their jobs with excellence and integrity (there are always exceptions to the rule). The apostle Paul clearly admonished believers to give honor and respect to governmental authority (Romans 13:1-7). As a Christian, I grieve over every senseless loss of God-given life. I rigorously oppose violence against black lives, blue lives, and white lives. I know it sounds silly and sappy but the words of an old children’s song we used to sing in Sunday School keep ringing in my ears, “Red and yellow, black and white, they are precious in His sight”.
We know that our weapons are not carnal but mighty through God, to the pulling down of strongholds (2 Corinthians 10:4). Therefore, prayer is a powerful force of good in the fight against evil. Prayer is not a waste of time. Prayer is not just something that we do to make ourselves feel better. Prayer is not just a platitude that we talk about. Therefore, pray we must. I’m imploring everyone who loves the Lord to join me in prayer for the healing of our nation. Join me in prayer for the families who have recently lost loved ones to what seem to be unjustified acts of police violence. Pray for the families of the Dallas police officers who tragically lost their lives because of an injustice that they did not commit. Pray that the cycle of hate and violence will stop. And if you really want to be like Jesus; pray for your enemies too (Matthew 5:44).
I’m ashamed to say that I was exposed in a moment of self-righteousness the other day. It was a moment of critical, mean-spiritedness over a situation that I knew little to nothing about. Ouch. It hurts to type those words. And then, as is often God’s way, I happened across two articles (here and here) that sent conviction running down my spine like an icy cold water challenge.
I frequently tell my church: Feeling conviction is not a bad thing. Uncomfortable? Yes. Fun? No. Necessary? Absolutely. The real danger isn’t feeling conviction but choosing to ignore conviction. Ignoring conviction for too long is essentially “quenching the Spirit (1 Thessalonians 5:19)” which leads to a hard and calloused heart, far removed from God. In fact, the ability to feel conviction is the hallmark of a true believer (consider King David’s confrontation with the prophet after his terrible sin with Bathsheba).
Let me clarify a few things right at the onset: I absolutely believe that a person must be confident and sure of their Christian faith. God, in no uncertain terms, has called believers to be holy (Ephesians 1:4, 1 Peter 1:15-16, 1 Peter 2:9) and righteous (1 John 2:29, 1 John 3:7, Matthew 5:20, Philippians 1:11). Furthermore, righteousness is not just a state of mind; it is manifested in lifestyle and actions. For example, Paul commands us to “Flee youthful lusts (action): but follow (another action) righteousness (2 Timothy 2:22)”. We can and must “…rightly divide (an action that demands an action) the word of truth (2 Timothy 2:15)”, and “judge [with] righteous judgment (John 7:24)”. In other words, godly people have a right to discern right from wrong, righteousness from unrighteousness, good from evil, etc. To say otherwise is, well, unrighteous.
However, we all know immature Christians who use “judge not that ye be not judged (Matthew 7:1)” as a mantra to justify every sinful and sin accommodating action. It’s fairly safe to say that Matthew 7:1 has become modern Christianity’s favorite verse. The implication is simple, don’t tell me what to do because only God can do that. This drives sincere Christians crazy and gives others (sometimes unintentionally) a false sense of biblical authorization for all kinds of unrighteous behavior. Furthermore, the “only God can judge me” crowd should really let that thought sink in because God will judge our every action, that alone should cause us to carefully consider our lifestyles.
So, was Jesus really condoning bad behavior, spiritual timidity, or telling us that no one has a right to call a spade a spade? If that is the case, Jesus contradicted the entire Old Testament, every other relevant event of the New Testament, and his own actions to boot. Remember the overturned tables in the temple where Jesus made a righteous judgment saying “…ye have made it a den of thieves (Matthew 21:13)”?
Obviously, Jesus was not advocating turning a blind eye to sin or telling us that we cannot make spiritual judgment calls about ourselves and others. The verses immediately following bring clarity to the whole discussion: “For with what judgment ye judge, ye shall be judged: and with what measure ye mete, it shall be measured to you again. And why beholdest thou the mote that is in thy brother’s eye, but considerest not the beam that is in thine own eye (Mathew 7:2-3)?”
The basic meaning here is that we are to judge ourselves before we judge others. There is an unrighteous and unholy brand of judgment that we can quickly allow to fester in our spirit that is harmful, hypocritical, and ungodly. If we condemn others for things that we are doing ourselves we bring condemnation upon ourselves (Romans 2:1-3). If we judge hastily, callously, contemptuously, carelessly, wrongfully, or prematurely we are guilty of judging with an unrighteous judgment. Those who judge others in such a way will be judged by God in that same way (Luke 6:36-38).
Here’s a difficult question that God often drops into my heart like an atomic bomb during prayer, “Do you want to be right for the sake of being right or for the sake of being righteous before Me?” Here’s another cringe-inducing thought; you can be right and unrighteous at the same time. In many ways, that is the very definition of being self-righteous. I want to be right for the sake of helping others and pleasing God not just to win arguments or rack up spiritual points. Yes, as a believer I have the right to make judgment calls, but I want to do so righteously for the right reasons with the right attitude. Sadly, I often fail. Thankfully, I have wonderful godly people surrounding me who make righteous judgments about my unrighteous judgments and aren’t afraid to tell me so.
Some introspective questions:
Do I enjoy it when others are harshly judged?
Do I enjoy arguing more than truly helping?
Am I quick to judgment without having all the relevant facts?
Do I elevate my opinions above the Bible?
Do I judge myself as harshly as I judge others?
Am I doing the same things that I criticize others for doing?
Do I pray for the judgment or for the conversion of sinners?
Am I willing to admit when I am wrong?
Do I make judgments from a place of humility or superiority?
Do I realize that all righteousness comes from God?
Do I care for sinners or callously condemn sinners?
Am I manufacturing self-righteousness or exampling godly righteousness?
Am I jumping to conclusions or executing godly discernment?
Do I judge from a place of knowledge or from a heart of wisdom?
Am I unwilling to make righteous judgments for fear of confrontation?
Am I justifying sin with my silence?
Does my unwillingness to righteously judge harm my witness?
Will I accept righteous judgment as easily as I dispense righteous judgment?
Do I exemplify godly mercy in my interactions with people?
Have I replaced mercy and grace with acceptance of sin?
Do I righteously judge sin or unrighteously justify sin in my own life and in the lives of others?
This article first appeared as a guest posting on the blog www.searchofkings.net curated by Evangelist Timothy Hadden. The Search of Kings is a tremendous site full of well-articulated Apostolic content. Incidentally, Rev. Timothy Hadden is one of the premier evangelists of our day and the founder of Transition Ministries. Be sure to follow him on Twitter with the handle @T_C_hadden for daily inspiration.
The Bible emphatically declares that the meek will inherit the earth (Mark 5:5). As many before me have pointed out, meekness is not weakness. In fact, meekness can only be actuated from a place of inner strength. We might even say that meekness grows in the garden of godly confidence. And make no mistake, although we are to avoid pride like the Ebola virus, ministers must walk in confidence.
A quick biblical study of the word confidence produces a wealth of commands like Proverbs 14:26, “In the fear of the LORD there is strong confidence, and his children will have refuge.” Our confidence is not built upon ourselves but rather upon our faith in God. It took confidence for Moses to stand before Pharaoh over and over again. It took confidence for Joshua to march his army around an impenetrable city. It took confidence for Elijah to challenge the prophets of Baal. It took confidence for Gideon to send thousands of able-bodied soldiers home. It took confidence for Noah to build an ark having never seen rain. It took confidence for a fisherman to preach on the Day of Pentecost. It took confidence for Paul to plant dozens of churches in unfriendly environments. The list could go on and on, but you get the point.
We are using the word confidence because it is almost interchangeable with the word faith. Faithful confidence is the antithesis of insecurity. We know that without faith it is impossible to please God (Hebrews 11:6). Without faith mountains will remain firmly planted (Matthew 17:20). Without faith revival will not occur, chains will not be broken, and the work of the Kingdom will be diminished. And yet, ministers are often afflicted with insecurity and plagued by depression.
If I sound judgmental or accusatory it’s certainly not my intention. As I have outlined in a previous article (Ministerial Depression – And How To Handle It), ministerial depression is usually a direct result of ministerial insecurity.
It may sound strange, but the first step to overcoming insecurity and discouragement is knowing that you’re not alone. Almost every great man of God in Scripture faced strong feelings of discouragement; a cursory examination of the Psalms makes that fact crystal clear. Even Jesus had moments of intense frustration that could easily be described as discouragement. How else would you describe weeping and lamenting over a faithless people (Luke 19:41-44)? Elijah literally watched fire fall from heaven only to enter into a severe season of discouragement. Gideon worked while hiding from the Midianites and scoffed when the angel called him a mighty man of valor. He was so discouraged that even angelic visitation didn’t invigorate him immediately.
Biblical examples aside, you may look across town and assume some other ministry is floating on air without a care in the world; nothing could be further from the truth. They have their own problems, failures, obstacles, and fears that you may never see. In fact, the higher you go within any leadership paradigm the more terrifying the view. If you’re mountain climbing the higher you go the more success you achieve, but you’re also facing new complexities and dangers at the same time. In fact, the danger becomes palpable.
With that in mind, comparison is often the culprit that ignites ministerial insecurity. My friend Mark Brown says, “A spirit of comparison comes from a spirit of competition, and competition comes from a prideful desire to be better than others. God resists the proud.” When we are proud God resists us, starting the cycle of insecurity and discouragement all over again. Prideful comparison is fundamentally ungodly and always leads to unnecessary discouragement. Remember when David disobeyed God and took a census of the people for the sake of comparison? It stirred God’s immediate anger. Resist comparison at all times.
Similarly, the pressure to compromise and the pressure to produce results also instigates insecurity. There is a disturbing trend festering that approaches ministry like a business, and pastoring like coaching. Preachers are increasingly pressured to lead their churches like a business and lead people like a corporate CEO. While ministry does contain aspects of business, shares traits of coaching, and even benefits from secular leadership skills it ultimately cannot be confined into those worldly paradigms. Trying to do so produces dissidence, dissatisfaction, spiritual anemia, and insecurity.
For example, if you measure spiritual success purely in terms of numbers, spreadsheets, and bottom lines you will always fall short. If you measure the success of a worship experience purely by talent, ambiance, and skill you will always be less than something or someone else. If you are led by trends, social winds, surveys, and opinions rather than convictions, doctrines, values, and timeless principles you will never lead with confidence.
Godly leaders understand that God does not measure success in the same way that businesses measure success. It’s not just about filling buildings, deep bank accounts, and slick productions. No. Ministry is about righteousness, truth, anointing, changed lives, transformed hearts, and right relationship with God and others. I would rather have a storefront church with two genuinely saved souls than a mega-church full of lost tithers. So the next time you feel the pressure to compromise for the sake of so-called success, remember that God does not measure success in the same way that carnal minds measure success.
With that in mind, one of the great deceptions of our time is the belief that compromise always produces growth. Consider this, the average church (across all denominational lines) runs about 75. The vast majority of those churches consistently compromise without any numeric growth at all. Clearly, compromise and abandoning biblical foundations does not produce automatic numeric growth (even if it did it would not justify watering down the Gospel). When apostolic ministers accept that lie, whether publically or secretly, they lead from a fixed position of insecurity. They live with the same Grasshopper Complex the ten spies articulated when they told Moses that the Promise Land was unconquerable (Numbers 13). In other words, they are defeated without ever going into battle. That’s the real tragedy of insecurity, we are defeated on the battlefield of our own minds before even attempting to accomplish what God has called us to accomplish.
Flashes of insecurity are not sinful nor are they unusual, but living there is toxic. Prolonged insecurity is really a reflection of an inner lack of faith in God’s power, purpose, plan, and process. Remember, insecurity is the source of negativity. Choose faith over fear and lead with godly confidence.
5 T rust in the Lord with all thine heart; and lean not unto thine own understanding.6 In all thy ways acknowledge him, and he shall direct thy paths.7 Be not wise in thine own eyes: fear the Lord, and depart from evil (Proverbs 3:5-7).
One of the most common questions that I receive is something along the lines of how can we hear the voice or God? Sometimes it’s phrased in the context of seeking after the will of God. Every sincere Christian has endured seasons where they desperately needed to hear God or know his will. Loren Cunningham’s book Is That Really You God? delves into this topic head first. I found the book helpful and insightful. Loren digs beyond platitudes and easy answers burrowing down into the meat of the question. Especially, interesting are her thoughts on learning to differentiate God’s voice from our own internal voices and the world’s external voices. She walks us through the transition of young Samuel mistaking the voice of Eli for the voice of God. She further illustrates the process of Samuel’s maturation process and spiritual development, noting that as Samuel matured he easily recognized the voice of God, and others heard the voice of God prophetically through him.
I am excited to introduce you to the first contribution to Apostolic Voice by a noted theologian, Dr. Talmadge French. He is my father, pastor, mentor, and friend.
Preliminary Considerations for the Defense of Baptism In the Name of the Lord Jesus Christ
Postmodern tendencies away from distinctive doctrinal, and thus competitive, views in the arena of theological ideas must be confronted with a renaissance of fresh affirmation and defense of New Testament baptism rooted in the conviction that Scripture alone, and thus the Apostle’s doctrine, is the sole rule of faith. Oneness Pentecostals have been consistent and “thoroughgoing restorationists” in this regard, insisting that Apostolic practice be followed, regardless of later formulations. Indeed, at times, the Oneness movement is caricatured for this as exclusivistic and sectarian, not so much for insisting upon the originality of the Jesus’ name form, but for the insistence that it matters.
Of course, the Oneness position on baptism, the contention that the name of Jesus in baptism fulfills the Lord’s commission, is also an emphatic substantiation of the doctrine of the absolute Oneness of God and Jesus’ full, unshared Deity. Evidence of the unwarranted alteration in the formula of baptism, in order to accommodate Triune distinctions, is further indication that original doctrinal positions were modified.
But, while such distinctions currently matter to Oneness Pentecostals, perhaps the greatest challenge of our times is the formidable task of transferring a sincere passion for the truth to the next generation of Apostolics. Amidst the prevailing “who cares?” cultural and religious mentality, with its dominance of relative thought and the equality of all belief(s), the Oneness movement must not fail to stir anew that intense love for the name which has been its most distinguishing, promising, and resolute characteristic.
New Testament Significance of the Name
The postmodern shift in theological ideology intensifies the issue over baptism in varied and subtle ways. Historically, for example, attempts have been championed to separate the use, or speaking, of the name, from the authority and person of the one named. Such a view is without biblical support and reflects a minimizing of the import of the recurrent New Testament form, and use, of the name. An alleged lack of precise baptismal form is sometimes said to substantiate an assumption that “the name of Jesus” was merely an idiomatic way of speaking of one’s person or authority. But to indicate that form was an imprecise variable, and thus unimportant, or even nonexistent, shifts the debate considerably.
It is true that the erroneous assumption—that, as long as the one named is intended as the authority of an act, it makes little or no difference what one says—would necessarily apply also to the Triune form. The subtle and increasingly accepted implication is that either no formula whatsoever existed, or that there was no set formula that mattered. This goes far beyond the creedal debate as to which is original, but ignores as irrelevant, or eradicates, any Apostolic precedent and practice, the basis of the Oneness contention.
But it also ignores the historical reality. Rigorous exception should be made to the rejection of the significance of the New Testament use of the phrase “in the name” with reference to baptism and the working of miracles as unique to the name of Jesus and Christian practice. These are core, not peripheral, issues to Jesus’ name theology. As such, the Oneness position takes strong issue with the assertion that the expression “in the name” has no actual reference to a name, but only to an authority.
The overwhelming sense is that the New Testament church was very literally a people of the name, who used Jesus’ name uniquely, prominently, and powerfully, and of whom God said: “upon whom my name is called.” The use of “this name” was a