Archives For I Love the Local Church

I long for a church…

Tim Brister —  May 10, 2014 — 1 Comment

“I long for a church that understands that it—the local church—is the chosen and best method of evangelism. I long for a church where the Christians are so in love with Jesus that when they go about the regular time of worship, they become an image of the gospel. I long for a church that disarms with love, not entertainment, and lives out countercultural confidence in the power of the gospel. I long for a church where the greatest celebrations happen over those who share their faith, and the heroes are those who risk their reputations to evangelize.

I yearn for a culture of evangelism with brothers and sisters whose backs are up to mine in the battle, where I’m taught and I teach about what it means to share our faith; and where I see leaders in the church leading people to Jesus. I want a church where you can point to changed lives, where you can see people stand up and say, ‘When I came to this church two years ago, I didn’t know God, but now I do!’ I long to be part of a culture of evangelism like that. I bet you do, too.”

– J. Mack Stiles, Evangelism: How the Whole Church Speaks of Jesus, 60-61.

 

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I grew up in a churched culture. From the time I left the hospital until I graduated high school, I was put through every program, participated in every activity, and was faithful to every event our local church had to offer. Children’s church, R.A.’s (Royal Ambassadors), Bible Drill, Children’s & Youth Choir, Puppet Ministry, Youth Group/Ministry, Sunday School, Discipleship Training, Christmas/Easter Dramas…you name it, I was in it.

I was converted at the early age of 8, right in the middle of all the busy life a committed church-goer. Looking back, however, one of the most glaring (and I would add scandalous) omissions is that my church never taught me how to live. I knew how to do a ton of religious things, not the least of which was checking off the boxes on my tithe envelope, but when it came to living out my faith as a disciple of Jesus, I really had no clue. I just knew how to get in the system and let the system do its thing.

The System and Spirit Within Christendom

What this system has produced, rather unintentionally I might add, is a spirit of consumerism through the culture of Christendom. In this system, who you are (identity) is defined by what you do (performance). I am a Christian because I go to church, and the fruit of my faith is manifested in my participation and religious performances. This system works within Christendom because Christianity and culture has been syncretized so that being religious or good is tantamount to being a disciple of Jesus.

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When it comes to the Great Commission, there are basically three responses a church can have. A church can do nothing, something, or one thing.

Doing Nothing

A church that does nothing believes the Great Commission does not apply to them. In other words, they make the argument that the command of Jesus to His disciples then was for a particular people in a particular time and has no direct implications to Christians today. Therefore their church members are off the hook, so to speak, when it comes to making disciples. The exceptions to this principle are the “great” Christians who obey the command of Christ to make disciples. The “great” aspect of the Great Commission refers to the elite special forces of the Christian faith which, of course, excludes most, if not all, of us.

This response also attempts to use seemingly good theological arguments to make their case. God is sovereign, and He’s got the whole salvation thing under control. He does not need our help. If He wants more disciples, He will make it happen. This argument, although is partly true, actually does not really appreciate the sovereignty of God as it is revealed in Scripture. God is not only sovereign over the ends but also the means as well. God will make it happen, and He will do so by making it happen through means—through His people who are called to join Him on mission. Playing the sovereignty card on doctrinal table is an ungodly way to justify disobedience to the commands of Christ.

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I Am a Church MemberWe live in a day where unfortunately it is hard to find committed churchmen (and women). I am talking about disciples of Jesus who build the rhythms of their lives around the local church and her mission in the world, who see the local body as the hub of their relationships and weave their identity intricately into their covenant community, who take the term “faith family” sincerely and live out its implications in everyday life. They are church members who don’t treat life in the body as optional, participation in the mission tangential, or recognized by others as nominal. They are faithful men and women committed to loving the church for which Jesus gave His life.

Last week at TGC13, I was given a copy of a new book by Thom Rainer entitled I Am a Church Member: Discovering the Attitude That Makes a Difference.” Normally when I receive free books, publishers are clearing out inventory of titles not many people are buying (unless of course you come to one of my Band of Bloggers :)). But in this case, I became particularly interested in this little 75 page book because of its title (a slow reader like myself can finish this book in two hours).

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Last week, I gave a talk on discipleship at the “Building Biblical Churches Conference” hosted by the Spurgeon Fellowship of Florida. One of the points I argued had to with the responsibility of the leadership to create a culture for disciple-making. It just doesn’t happen by accident, and it should not happen by exception. In order for disciple-making to become normative in the life of a church, I argue that one of the most fundamental steps to take is to create a culture through robust means spearheaded by intentional leadership.

Disciple Making CultureHere are six means I believe church leaders should be intentional with implementing in order to create a disciple-making culture:

On Creating a Disciple-Making Culture

1.  A Philosophy That Focuses on Disciple-Making [PURPOSE]

From the very beginning, church leaders should have a clear understanding of the mission of the church. The church does not exist to satisfy the preferences of members or cater to the demands of religious consumers. The church exists to make disciples, and a philosophy that undergirds that mission focuses the life of the church toward that end. The practical benefit of purposeful thinking encourages a straightforward and simple approach to ministry rather than a busy calendar and complex, compartmentalized approach.

2.  Leadership Who Model Disciple-Making [PRAXIS]

Like priests, like people. Those most influential in creating culture are the leaders and the example they set. If church leaders are not the lead disciple-makers, then it is disingenuous to pursue a culture of disciple-making when the leadership undermine it. The Apostle Paul was such a discipler that he could send one of his disciple-making disciples in his stead to teach, serve, and live in a manner consistent with the life he modeled for churches. This did not come about on a platform or in an office. It happened because Paul was on mission in all of life to make disciples of Jesus. A model either magnifies or marginalizes the making of disciples.

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True and False Christianity MindMap

Last Sunday, I preached a message on true and false Christianity from Philippians 3. One of the newer elements of my sermon prep has been to incorporate mind-mapping at the early stages of developing the sermon. This usually happens alongside the time of sentence diagramming and shaping thoughts on the moleskine. Last week, I did my mindmap while in bed late Monday night. When I posted it on Twitter Saturday night, I had a lot of questions about mind-mapping and how I use it for sermon development.

Our minds likely work differently, so the approach to mind-mapping will vary. However, I still think every preacher can benefit from the exercise. For me, it has been instrumental in collecting thought and connecting them to the thesis or main idea of the text. In a non-linear fashion, it has allowed me to flesh out thoughts better than the bullet point format.

For those interested, I thought I’d share the connection between my mindmap and my manuscript, both of which I am posting below. You can also listen to the MP3 of the message. As for the tools, I produce my mindmap using iThoughtsHD on the iPad, and I create my mindmap on MS Word to be converted on Pages for the iPad. Click on the mindmap to get the larger version to view.

True and False Christianity Mindmap
True and False Christianity Manuscript
True and False Christianity MP3

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When Jason Meyer was recommended to be the successor of John Piper at Bethlehem, I took a couple of hours to share why I believe Jason would be a great candidate for such a position. Pastoral succession can be very difficult. I have heard of numerous churches that have struggled and failed in this challenging process of transition. Both John Piper and Jason Meyer have personally impacted my life in profound ways, and for that I’m grateful to watch with joy this video testimony played at Jason’s installation service last Sunday evening.

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CovenantHealthy churches have explicit pre-commitments in what they believe (confession), how they live together (covenant), and how they are governed (constitution). Of course there is more that constitutes a healthy church, but I would argue it is critical from the outset that a church make clear these commitments based on the Word of God.

I’m grateful to belong to a covenant community seeking to honor the commitments we have made to one another. As a community formed by the gospel, we seek to live together as repenters and believers. This important to remember when it comes to living out our covenant commitments because no one of us grounds our identity based on our sanctification or our ability to keep those commitments perfectly. Even the commitments themselves speak to this. For instances, God commands that we forgive one another as God in Christ has forgiven us. That assumes that we live in such proximate intimacy that we are going to sin against one another and be offended/hurt by one another (the Bible expects this). The proper response (which the Bible expects also) is to lovingly engage the one who has hurt/offended us and seek gospel reconciliation by making peace through repentance and forgiveness. Others include bearing one another’s burdens (context is addressing a sinning brother) and loving in ways that records of wrongdoings are not upheld and hoping all things at all times is applied.

This is important to remember because we are in danger of misunderstanding grace-based church covenant and making it into a condition-binding contract. In a church contract, when the conditions are not met by other members in our church community, you feel that you are justified in leaving that congregation in pursuit of a more perfect community. The irony to such a response is that such a response is a sinful reaction that dishonors the gospel. The person may feel justified in leaving because their feelings were hurt or was sinned against, but such justification has nothing to do with living in light of our justification by faith in Christ.

How many people have left their church family because they got upset with someone and could not do Scripture tells us to do? How many people have left because their feelings were hurt, the preacher stepped on their toes, another member failed to show sympathy and concern in a moment of crisis, and so on? How many churches were started not as a new work but as a sin-laden schism because blessed peacemaking seemed beyond the reach of those harboring resentment, fear of man, and self-pity?

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One of the biggest lessons I’ve learned about leadership in the local church has to do with creating, cultivating, and contending for a gospel-centered culture in the church. This past weekend, I led a discussion in our “Introduction to Grace” membership class on this very thing. I began with Albert Mohler’s well-known case for theological triage. Membership interviews and membership classes are important to the life and health of a church for several reasons, not the least of which is the need to protect/content for a gospel-centered culture in your church.

Here’s what I mean by that. If Christians are looking to join your church (via transfer growth), it could very well be that there are 3rd Tier issues that they want to make 2nd Tier or even 1st Tier issues. Some people call them “single issue Christians.” There are others that are not so obvious and can sometimes be discerned by their approach to church being a “What do you have to offer me?” kind of attitude. Either way, they want to push upward their 3rd Tier preferences and make them 2nd Tier principles. Some of these preferential non-essentials are listed in the chart below.

So here’s the deal. If at any point you as a leader allow for 3rd Tier issues to advance upward in the culture of the church, then members will become centered on something other than the gospel and factions will ensue. If passions drive preferences, and preferences are not 2nd Tier issues, then church leaders must be clear that the passion to lead the church with a gospel-centered focus is greater than their passion to drive their preferences into the culture of the church. This is protecting the unity of the flock with a gracious spirit of saying, “That’s not going to happen among us. I’m sorry.”

This is why I believe it is important to be clear with the 2nd Tier. If your church is not clear on what defines you in what you believe (confession), how you live (covenant), and what you value most (core values), then you are living in the land of assumptions with an open invitation for any member to more explicit about their preferences than you are your principles. Without those gospel-guiding principles in place as filters to protect the unity of the church, the health and welfare of the church is in a vulnerable state.

Gospel-centered leaders do not have the luxury of being accepting of personal preferences as anything more than personal preferences. They have to front with the gospel explicitly and consistently and back that up with a godly intolerance for members to be united by any greater than the good news of Jesus Christ. They themselves must exhibit by their life and actions that the greatest common denomination in the fellowship of the saints is that our names are written in the heaven as blood-bought children of God.

For some churches, gospel-centered churches must guard against liberalism, which is the neglect or dismissal of 1st Tier doctrines. On the other hand, I believe in most cases leaders must guard against fundamentalism, which is the treatment as if all matters are 1st Tier issues. A real test of the diversity we are to enjoy is whether we can experience genuine fellowship with other Christians who see 3rd Tier issues differently than us.

Here’s how I like to think about it. The 3rd Tier issues ought always be in subjection to the 2nd Tier. The 2nd Tier issues ought always be in subjection to the 1st Tier. Gospel-centered churches major on the gospel (1st Tier), and members who care deeply about the unity of the church care about the 2nd Tier (and by virtue of that, the 1st as well). If that kind of order is not functional in the church, then what you are left with sadly will look similar to this…

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Back in the day (I mean a long time ago), I had a series on this blog called “Blue Collar Theology.” The goal was to highlight theological education options, resources, and training for everyday church members, not just pastors or ministry leaders. One of the exciting trends taking place in evangelicalism is the move of theological education back to the local church. Seminaries and institutions on the cutting edge of theological education realize the centralization of training on seminary campuses are less attractive than days before, and with the new technology available to livestream or provide internet/DVD based instruction new delivery systems of theological education are quickly pushing the envelope.

As encouraging as the new technology and decentralized delivery systems are for theological education, the most exciting aspect of it all is seeing local churches embrace the responsibility to educate, train, equip, and send out disciple-makers, ministry leaders, church planters, and missionaries in their own context. One such church leading the way is The Church at Brook Hills. Below is a video of David Platt sharing with his church family the recent developments of providing theological training for disciple-makers here and abroad. Granted, very few (if any) churches are able to reproduce this model of theological education in the local church (I mean they have a full-time pastor as director and a seminary providing another full-time instructor!), and the lack of reproducibility is without a doubt a weakness. But be that as it may, there is so much to commend here, and I think David Platt’s influence and example will do much to inspire and encourage other pastors and churches to consider how they can teach and train their people for the work God has called them to do.

What do you think? How would theological education work in your church? What are challenges or issues facing local churches seeking to do something like this on a (much) smaller scale?

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